Wayland theatre's The Nerd to leave audiences in stitches

PLAINVIEW – Dr. Marti Runnels doesn’t normally do a lot of laughing during theatre rehearsals at Wayland Baptist University. He takes his job pretty seriously, and often, he’s deep in concentration over lines, blocking and actor interaction.

This next production, however, blows all that away.

“I’ve laughed so hard sometimes during rehearsals, and it’s been hard for the actors not to laugh because it is just so funny,” said Runnels, theatre director at Wayland since 1989.

If that’s any indication, then The Nerd will be a sure comedy treat for audiences of all ages. Performed as a dinner theatre, the production will be on stage in Harral Studio Theatre on April 20, 21 and 22, with dinner catered by Johnny Carino’s nightly at 7 p.m. on the Harral Auditorium stage and the show starting at 8 p.m.

Written by Larry Shue, The Nerd is the story of a young architect, Willum Cubbert, who meets back up with a man who saved his life in Vietnam but whom he had never met. Told once he would always have a grateful friend, Rick Steadman shows up at Willum’s birthday party and is a hopeless nerd. He moves in and the too-nice Willum can’t seem to get rid of him, calling on his zany cast of friends to help.

“Willum is a real people pleaser who never takes much initiative. He’s a nice guy but pretty wishy-washy,” Runnels said. “Rick is really obnoxious and is driving everyone crazy but Willum can’t tell him to leave. Things go from bad to worse, crazy to ridiculous.”

All the while, Runnels said, the audience is rolling at the production which features its fair share of farcical humor stunts like pies in the face. All of this presents a challenge in directing.

“When you have a prop-intensive show – where there’s lot of food that gets spilled and ends up on people – making it all fit requires precise timing,” Runnels explains. “When it rolls along at a particular pace and you pause for two seconds, comedy falls apart.”

Runnels said getting the show to “look like chaos, but it’s very organized” requires a lot of repetition during rehearsals, and actors are pressed to stay focused and work out the cues with precision.

Shue also wrote The Foreigner, a play Runnels directed in 2000. A comedy as well, Runnels feels that play and The Nerd are two of the funniest shows in terms of pure fun in the last 40 years of playwriting. And in another coincidence, the Nerd was produced at Wayland in 1989 just before Runnels arrived, directed by Dr. Candace Keller, now professor of art at WBU, who has a master’s degree in theatre.

“We were between directors at the time, and they were committed to doing a play for the American College Theatre Festival that year,” Keller recalled. “I had read the play and thought it was really hilarious so we decided to do that one. They asked me to direct it.”

The cast runs the gamut from Wayland theatre newcomers to veterans and graduates. Grant Jasper, a sophomore theatre major from Argyle, plays the role of Rick, the nerd, with senior theatre major Tim Fisher of San Antonio in the role of Willum. Teresa Moore, coordinator of student activities and a veteran of the Wayland stage, plays his girlfriend, Tansy McGinnis, and freshman theatre major Thomas Hoffman of Wasilla, Alaska.

Willum’s boss, Warnock Waldgrave, is played by Billy Boone, a recent Wayland graduate and veteran of the WBU stage. The role of his wife, Clelia, is filled by sophomore theatre major and transfer student Rita Pitts of Plainview, in her first Wayland play. Their son, Thor, is played by 10-year-old Payton Thornton of Plainview.

The play is set in Terra Haute, Ind. in 1980, with set design by Chris Moore, technical theatre director. Stage manager is Mary Feril, a senior theatre major from Grand Prairie.

Tickets to the dinner theatre are $20, which includes the meal, play and dessert. Tickets for the play only are $8 for adults and $4 for students. Reservations are required for anyone wanting to eat and can be made by calling the theatre box office at 291-1087. Payment is required at time of reservation by credit card or other arrangements.