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‘The Nerd’ Opens on Broadway

March 23, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ You don’t go to a play titled ″The Nerd″ expecting Shakespeare.

So, if you go to ″The Nerd,″ a comedy by the late Larry Shue which opened Sunday night at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater, you expect nerd jokes. And you get a lot of them. Funny, unfunny and, well, stupid. Some of the stupid ones, because they build, draw the most laughs of all.

″The Nerd″ is a lot like a TV situation comedy, though longer and better written. The situation is: when you’ve promised a terrible nuisance nerd you’d do anything for him, how do you give him the gate?

Mark Hamill, of ″Star Wars″ renown, portrays Willum, 34-year-old architect, Mr. Nice Guy, resident of Terre Haute, Ind. His beautiful girlfriend, Tansy (Patricia Kalember), is poised for flight to Washington, D.C., where she’ll become a TV weather girl.

Both hate to part. She says to cynical newspaper critic and friend Axel (Peter Riegert) that she wishes Willum had gumption.

In comes Rick Steadman, who once dragged a wounded Willum to medics in Vietnam, saving his life. Despite the rescue they’ve never met, because Willum was unconscious at the time.

Robert Joy is brilliant as Rick. He’s the nerdiest of nerds, short-sleeved white shirt, both pockets bulging, Boy Scout-green, too-short pants, an eager, childish expression, dumb about parlor game rules, always saying Tocky to a man nicknamed Tickki.

He gets worse; you’re not laughing at someone you should feel sorry for. He covers business messages on Willum’s answering machine with his tambourine practice. He destroys a final architectural drawing of a hotel by adding a chimney and a hole you can blow cigarette smoke through.

Willum, feeling guilty but driven nuts after six days, agrees to a ″weird tribal ritual″ by Willum, Tansy and Axel. Axel suggests it: ″This is a desperate situation; it calls for something infantile.″ Of course nerdy Rick, far from being startled into immediate departure, loves prancing around with mops and T-squares.

Charles Nelson Reilly directed his more than capable cast with sparkle and build, from few laughs at the beginning to many in the tribal ritual, quietly slipping in the clues to plot surprises.

Wayne Tippit and Pamela Blair play a hotel builder and his wife and Timmy Geissler their bratty son. Kevin Dowling and Joan Stein, Melvyn J. Estrin, Susan Rose, Gail Berman and Lynn Dowling produced in association with F. Harlan Batrus, Gina Rogak and George A. Schapiro.

Does Willum get gumption? Does the nerd get the gate? Well, this is come- out-OK comedy. It’s not as funny as Shue’s farce, ″The Foreigner,″ but it was good for a lot of laughs. ″The Nerd,″ which was crafted by a clever adult, is for people with an appetite for well-done silly fun.

Another reviewer, Frank Rich of The New York Times, wrote the show ″provides pockets of ace material in his first act″ and ″some bright one-liners as well.″ But, he added, ″the prolonged, intentionally ‘infantile’ slapstick shenanigans of Act II turn out to be more exhausting than hysterical, especially as rudimentarily staged″ by Reilly.

From Clive Barnes of the New York Post: ″It is not - by any means - a good play. It is nerdlike, or even nerdish. It made me want to scream with agony.″ However, ″in fairness,″ he added that many in the audience were ″screaming with laughter.″

″The whole cast is fine″ and Reilly has staged the show ″with wonderfully farcical resource,″ he also said.

Howard Kissel of the New York Daily News also praised the acting and directing, but he, too, found some of the humor less than funny. ″Shue’s sense of humor reminded me of jokes in the high school cafeteria,″ he wrote.

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