Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Nerd"& "Nunsense"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


"The Nerd"

&

"Nunsense"

"The Nerd"

by Larry Shue
Directed by J. Mark Baumhardt

Set Design by Dave Sheppard
Lighting Design by Cathy Campbell
Sound Design by Tom Berry
Costume Design by Dave Sheppard
Assistant Director Chris Rose
Properties Diane Seligman, Lisa Astbury
Stage Manager Michele Gillis

Willum Cubbert......Robert Mattson
Tansy McGinnis...Michelle Aguillon
Axel Hammond.........Andrew Cranin
Clelia Waldgrave.....Leslie Wagner
Thor Waldgrave.........Derek Sacks
Rick Steadman.........David Fisher

Dan Goggins wrote an irreverent little revue that's intended as a sketch on which to hang five bravura performances --- the more outrageous the better. (In fact, it was so successful he wrote it again and again under three different titles!) Larry Shue wrote a straight farce that may have wanted to be a mediocre situation-comedy pilot. These two comedies have been done nearly everywhere by nearly everyone, they've made money and pleased audiences in most of the community theatres in America, and it's quite irrelevant for me to say neither is very well written. So it's really what the cast and the director bring to either one that make them interesting.

Out in Maynard for instance, Director J. Mark Baumhardt and his "Team Acme" cast began the idea that the lines themselves must be funny, so much of the cast is concentrating on delivery. The three principals here are all old friends --- witty people who throw off funny lines as they pop into their brains. But Robert Mattson and Dave Sheppard rap out their lines like a pair of stand-up comics working much too hard, and judging how well they're doing by audience reactions. And Sheppard habitualy swallows the ends of all his lines, as though he were doing an improv-routine. What they haven't done is fleshed out exactly who it's supposed to be that's saying these quips.

Basically, the same can be said of most of the cast most of the time. David Fisher in the title role plays an obnoxious boor --- but one so broadly awful it would be difficult for anyone to be polite to him. Andrew Cranin plays a rich, pompous real estate mogul who explodes when pelted with cottage cheese (Remember, this is comedy!) --- but considering all his previous explosions, there's no build to that apex at all. And as his obnoxious son, Derek Sacks over-acts as though he was playing an eleven-year-old.

So what's missing here is any concern about who these people really are --- which means there's no sense whatever of a reality from which these people's actions and witticisms emerge or diverge --- which means any elements of the flimsy plot that squeeze out between the jokes never gets a chance to develop. (A final flip of "reality" on its head has no wallop simply because no reality had really been built.)

In fact, only the two women on stage make any real attempts at character. Leslie Wagner makes the rich man's wife nervously glacial, so repressed her knees seem welded together. From this character, the polite request for a small piece of crockery she can Smash (which she does daintily, first wrapping it protectively in a handkerchief) calls forth awareness-giggles rather than comedy-shop guffaws.

Michelle Aguillon tends to be the still point in this comic maelstrom. The other two play her former and current boyfriends, so she must talk seriously to each zany in turn when (if rather) they quiet down enough to state an honest truth about themselves. Hers is the honest fulcrum of the plot, and she takes full advantage of the fact that there are no laugh-lines for her to over-act.

"Nunsense"

by Dan Goggins
Directed by Scott Gagnon

Scenic Design by Ronald L. Dion
Lighting Design by Joanne Farwell
Sound Design by Alex Savitzky
Costume Design by Richard Itczak
Choreography by Pamela Shapiro
Stage Manager John Murtagh

Sr. Mary Regina......Joanne Powers
Sr. Mary Hubert........Susan Walsh
Sr. Robert Anne...Regina Stillings
Sr. Mary Amnesia...Jennifer Condon
Sr. Mary Leo......Sarah Consentino

Contrariwise, since "Nunsense" is a flat-out send-up of convent denizens, the "plot" such as it is, is even more ridiculous than the jokes themselves. The problem here was to take a familiar war-horse and make it look new. Half Scott Gagnon's cast at Turtle Lane Playhouse were veterans, three had never done the show before --- but it's difficult to figure from their performances which is which.

The show is full of rim-shot lines and unlikely stories pushed to the maximum possible extreme. Allusions to Graucho Marx in drag can feel very comfortable in such a neo-Burlesque atmosphere. And there is sure satirical shtick, like nuns driven to profanity, like five nuns in tap-shoes, like Mother Superior sniffing what she doesn't know is Ecstasy. But though it's broad, it isn't chaotic; the ladies play with, and to, one another with no one-upmanship, and two of the many musical numbers are played straight: The frustrated ballerina's dance ("The Dying Nun") has a sincerity edging the humor, and at the top of Act II the song "Growing up Catholic" is a perfect penance for all the cheap Catholic-bashing jokes throughout the rest of the show.

But, the bottom line at Turtle Lane is simply:
Tear up your missal and your catechism, because
It's funni-ER this way
It's funni-ER I say
It's funni-ER right now
It's funni-ER And How! ! !

Love,
===Anon.


"The Nerd" (20 September 12 October)
ACME THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
Artspace, 61 Summer Street, MAYNARD, MA
1(978)823-0003
"Nunsense" (13 September - 6 October)
TURTLE LANE PLAYHOUSE
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA
1(617)244-01696


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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