By STEPHANIE OTTEY
Each of the Mahoning Valley’s theaters has a specialty — a style or genre that it produces better than any other. Trumbull New Theater has found its specialty and is opening the 2012-13 season with a show that highlights it.
Larry Shue’s “The Nerd” is a one-set, lighthearted comedy with all the flavors that are commonly seen on the TNT stage. Clearly, the recipe works for them — on Saturday night, the house was packed and loud with laughter.
“The Nerd,” simply stated, is about a man who is indebted to a seemingly bizarre character, and tries to appreciate his savior’s strange ways, until at last, he can bear them no more.
The script itself is unremarkable. Act 1 is primarily exposition. Here we meet the basic, if not bland, characters. There is an architect named Willum, his aspiring weather-girl girlfriend, and a theater critic tenant named Axel. Mr. Waldgrave, Willum’s boss, is introduced along with his wife and child, and finally “The Nerd,” Rick Steadman, arrives.
Upon knowing the characters, we know the situation — that one of those characters (Rick Steadman) is offensive and unwanted.
Shue writes Rick to be thoroughly unlikeable. The nerd is a trite, artificial caricature of a socially backward man. This makes the character’s intent successful, but it also makes it harder for the audience to connect with the central character.
The rest of the plot follows Willum on a quest to get rid of the nerd, until a twist at the end reveals some surprising truths.
Director Ben Gavitt keeps the energy alive on stage and gives the audience many opportunities to laugh by accentuating the funniest moments of the show. A game of “shoes and socks” has the audience in an uproar, as does the typical “Terre Haute dinner party.” Gavitt is smart to play up these parts to allow the audience and actors to revel in the silliness of the play.
His cast handles the bizarre humor gracefully.
Brian Suchora is calm and natural as Willum, the architect. Craig Mills is an arrogantly comic Axel, and Alicia Sanders’ portrayal of Tansy is charming and sweet. These three have a camaraderie on stage that propels the show.
The Waldgraves are a unique and loveable bunch. Cher Halas and H. Keith Bowers are a wonderfully wacky couple, and son Thor is a fun addition by Ethan Deemer.
“The Nerd” is quirky in the hands of Chris Wineland. Wineland adopts a stereotypical speech pattern and posture, but gains favor with much of the audience in his commitment to the character. His “mugging” destroys the fourth wall that the other actors build, but viewers don’t seem to mind.
As usual, TNT delivers a show that is technically very strong. The set is smartly designed and nicely crafted. The props and sound designs are thorough and well executed.
TNT is located at 5883 Youngstown-Warren Road SE, Niles. “The Nerd” runs through Sept. 23 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and one matinee Sept. 23. Call 330-652-1103.