David Herbelin, as the title character in OTA’s upcoming production “The Nerd,” lays hands on Willum Cubbert, played by Markus Parker. Willum’s roommate Tansy (played by Deanna Eickhart) reacts to his outrageous character. (Emily Matthiessen/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

David Herbelin, as the title character in OTA’s upcoming production “The Nerd,” lays hands on Willum Cubbert, played by Markus Parker. Willum’s roommate Tansy (played by Deanna Eickhart) reacts to his outrageous character. (Emily Matthiessen/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

‘The Nerd’ connects through laughter

OTA production begins Saturday

SEQUIM — Written by Larry Shue and first produced in 1981, “The Nerd” has a reputation as one of the funniest plays ever written, according to Olympic Theatre Arts, which promises that director Ron Graham’s production will revel in that tradition.

The play runs three weekends, from Friday through June 18, with showtimes at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Cost is $20 per ticket or $15 for students. Tickets are available at olympictheatrearts.org.

The two-act, seven-character play revolves around Willum Cubbert, an aspiring architect in Terre Haute, Ind.

Markus Parker, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater and film, plays Willum, in his first OTA role.

Willum was saved in Vietnam by Rick Steadman but had not met him before the play, which takes place in one carefully designed set, an apartment Willum shares with his friends, brought to life by set designer Tim Thorn and crew.

“The set design is always intended to create a background for the story,” Thorn said. “The function of the set I always get from the director and then I create the design around it. My philosophy on sets is they should make an audience believe they are where we say they are, and then forget about it and focus on the story.”

Graham said that he laughs at every practice, and notes, “It’s a very funny show, with a very sweet message. That life is what happens when you are making other plans.”

OTA Executive Director David Herbelin, who plays Rick, the titular character, explained that OTA’s programming committee chose the play because “they felt our community needed a good carefree laugh: something everyone could just turn off their brains and smile for an evening.”

Casting Herbelin as the title character pays off in laughs, as he does not hold back.

“The character really isn’t written as a typical nerd. He’s a buffoon, an innocent, an idiot, a pest, but not a nerd,” Herbelin said.

“You would expect a nerd to be someone you could learn some deep-dive info on some topic, any topic, even if it’s about action figures. Rick doesn’t have any of that knowledge.”

Herbelin noted that Shue wrote dialogue in the “The Nerd” in a Southern accent but that he’s from Wisconsin.

“So the struggle in this role is how to play him honestly and true to the plot and dialogue, which happens to be against expectations,” Herbelin said.

“Audiences may expect a savant from Fargo based on ‘nerd’ and ‘Wisconsin,’ but they’ll be getting a southern nincompoop. Long story short, Larry Shue’s nerd is someone who has no social skills and is a great pest. Which is why it’s so perfect that Dungeness Pest Control is this play’s sponsor.”

Herbelin said that while there is a lot of fun for his character (Rick), there is plenty of subtext for Willum and roommates Axel and Tansy.

“If you pay close enough attention, you may catch the unsaid connections that flow through the play that lead to a shocking ending,” Herbelin said.

“Larry Shue did a great job at hinting at different meanings, but not pointing a big bold sign at them. Some of them he gives you just one clue, and that’s it.”

Axel Hammond is played by Colby Thomas, a veteran of several OTA shows.

Said Deanna Eickhoff, who plays Tansy: “Ron is a wonderful director to work for. He has a clear artistic vision for the show which provides a great foundation for everyone’s collaborative effort.”

Greg Bova plays Warnock Waldgrave, potential client of Willum, whom he characterizes as “a hard-nosed businessman that is singularly focused on his work.

“He is used to being totally in charge of his environment and the people that work for him and therefore a perfect foil for the nerd, who bedevils him throughout the play,” Bova said of his character.

Bova, who retired after 43 years in the claims department of a major insurance company, said he has never been on stage before in his life, “not even a school play.” He said his wife encouraged him to audition, as he’d always wanted to try acting.

“[He] has a good, natural sense of what to do most of the time in stage, but also watches the others and learns from them,” Graham said of Bova.

“Its been a great experience,” said Bova. “I’m working with accomplished actors who have been very helpful.”

Jennifer Saul, playing Celia Waldgrave, stepped in at the last moment for another actor who had to leave the production.

“I have worked with Jennifer before and knew she would fit in well,” said Graham. “Jenn came in after only having the script a few days with better than half of her lines learned.”

“She is truly amazing,” said Herbelin. “It’s not very often you find an actress that can learn a part in a matter of days and nail it. I’ve seen Jen do this before on another show. I’d work with her any day.”

Saul said: “The script is amazing and the actors are delivering the lines in a way that I have to struggle to not break character by laughing at the ridiculousness of the situations being played out. I am looking forward to collective belly laughing from the audiences which is such a gift for our community. Laughing together builds connection.”

Child actor Paco Struve plays Warnock’s son Thor. He has acted in at least five plays with OTA.

“[The play] is fun; I get to trash the house,” Struve said.

“The entire cast has made this a true collaborative effort with suggestions and input as they explore being these characters,” Graham said. “I get to watch, make an adjustment or suggestion now and then. Mostly, I just try to get out of their way and let them have fun. And the more fun their characters have, the more fun the audience will have.”

Staging ‘The Nerd’

Shue, said Graham, only wrote five plays before his death in a plane crash at age 39. Two of them, “The Nerd” and “The Foreigner,” are well-known.

“I’ve had the pleasure of being in ‘The Foreigner’ in L.A. and directing it at the Port Angeles Playhouse, but I had never read ‘The Nerd’,” Graham said. “When I was asked to direct this show, I read the script. I hadn’t finished it before I knew I wanted to be involved. It’s been a blast.”

Graham said the people behind OTA’s “The Nerd” have made this production fun and easy.

“A theater production involves so many people,” he said. “The actors are the ones seen on stage, but there is a crew backstage and tech people in the booth and costumers and prop people and set designers and builders and the list goes on and on. Each and every one of these people has made my job so much fun and so easy, and I believe they all have had fun doing it. At times it is very hard work, but it should also be fun or else why do it? They’ve made it fun.

“I couldn’t ask for a better group of people with whom to work.”

________

Emily Matthiessen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at emily.matthiessen@sequimgazette.com.

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