Playwright Larry Shue came to prominence with a wacky farce, “The Foreigner,” in 1984. It was astonishingly successful considering its mixed critical reception. There was promise for more to come, but sadly he was killed in a plane crash the following year. Shue, however, had already written “The Nerd” which had its premiere in London in 1981. It did not get produced in New York until 1987.
In this production skillful director Kevin Cahoon and a cast of expert farceurs are having some fun with the idiocy currently taking place on the stage of the George Street Playhouse. You may possibly be inclined to appreciate the play’s series of seriously moronic antics that practically defy critical commentary. As an example: There is one almost endless scene in which the characters are coaxed into playing a party game where they must all sit and stare at an apple core as it turns brown.
This game is initiated by the title character, a.k.a Rick Steadman (Jonathan Kite), a man of no discernible intelligence. This thoroughly obnoxious and pathetic person has come to pay a visit to Willum Cubbert (Colin Hanlon), an architect whose life he saved in Vietnam. Because he misunderstands a simple phone message Rick arrives for what he assumes is going to be a costume party dressed as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Popping in, he scares the daylights out of Thor (good work by young Hayden Bercy), the spoiled brat son of Willum’s visiting boss. Rick is also unaware that Willum, his girlfriend, Tansy (Kate Reinders), and his good pal and neighbor Axel (Zach Shaffer) are in the midst of socializing while Willum is also finalizing a building blueprint with his stuffy boss (Stephen Wallem) and his uptight wife (Ann Harada).
An overbearing clownish clod from our perspective, Rick reveals his life work is to check boxes of chalk manufactured in a Midwest plant. His intention is to check into Willum’s pad for an indefinite stay. He proceeds to antagonize, disrupt, and alienate everyone in his presence. Before the daffy denouement, we are obliged to listen to Rick sing and play the tambourine, watch his ghastly impersonations of Cagney and Durante, survive his impressions of egg-laying chickens, and other such prime-time bell-ringers. The question the play leaves unanswered is whose patience is being tested: Is it the captive cast of characters or the hopefully captivated audience?
Kite, who is probably best known as Oleg, the Ukrainian cook in the CBS comedy “2 Broke Girls,” may be duly credited here with playing Rick as a nitwit of incalculable proportions. In the midst of the play’s penchant for stultifying hyperactivity stands Hanlon, as the mainly mortified Willum. Reinders is pretty, pert, and perky as the girlfriend. Shaffer contributes the most consistently amusing performance as the flippant drama critic who admits he writes his reviews before he sees the show (now there is a clever thought.) Both Harada and Wallem bring their farcical skills to the fore as the put-upon foils.
As directed by Cahoon, with the obligatory attention paid to pacing, motivation, and style, “The Nerd” achieves what it sets out to do by making the audience laugh at much of a relentless stream of utter silliness. A handsome sunken-living room setting with view of the outside has been designed by David L. Arsenault. All other technical aspects were in keeping with the excellence that is the norm at the George Street Playhouse.
The Nerd, George Street Playhouse, 103 College Farm Road, New Brunswick. Through May 20. $15 to $74. 732-246-7717 or www.georgestreetplayhouse.org