‘It’s funny because it’s outrageous’

A staple of community and college theater groups since it first was performed in 1981, “The Nerd,” by Larry Shue, is the non-musical entry in this season’s Summer Theatre docket at Minot State University. The play, which runs Saturday through Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., takes place in Terre Haute, Ind., at the home of a young architect, Willum Cubbert, played by Chris Pitner, who is giving himself a birthday party. He has invited his boss, Warnock Waldgrave; family members played by Jay Jenkins, Peg Morris and Christian Gifford; and several of his friends, played by Corie McDaniel and Jake Flaten.

Cubbert has often told them about the debt he owes to Rick Steadman, played by Daniel Johnson, who saved his life during the Vietnam War. He has never met Steadman, but has written to him that he can visit at any time. Steadman picks this night, this party, to begin a weeks-long stay.

Director Chris Stroschein, who has taken over after the retirement of Paula Lindekugel-Willis, says the comedy is about the structure there is to life, and how messes build up on top of it.

“That’s the case with all these characters,” Stroschein said. “In the beginning, they have this structure, then these forces build up beyond their control and rip them apart. The relationships are already in a state of change, and he (the Nerd) accelerates it.”

At the time of writing, the word “nerd” had a different connotation than today.

“Now it means someone who is unabashedly excited about just one thing,” Stroschein said. “They’re people who are able to forget themselves in the subject. It’s not that. There are elements of that, but it really meant a person who is socially inept, unable to pick up social cues from other people. It certainly didn’t give the favorable impression we have now.”

This is Stroschein’s first outing as a director for the Summer Theatre, although he has directed often elsewhere. But when Kevin Neuharth needed a director to take over from Lindekugel-Willis, he asked Stroschein, who immediately began researching scripts.

“I was drawn to ‘The Nerd,’ because unlike so many other farces we’ve done, this one has good character development,” Stroschein said. “Those others depend on someone running around with no clothes on, or drunk. Characters who are dumb from the beginning for no reason. This one starts smart with characters trying to take care of one another. They’re trying to help each other grow. But then Rick is thrown into the mix, and they have to adapt to that. It’s funny because it’s outrageous.”

Reservations are recommended, and may be made by calling 858-3228. Ticket prices are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, $5 for those 12 and under, and $3 for MSU faculty, staff and students with current IDs. The box office opens at 7:30 p.m. and reserved tickets must be picked up by 8:15 p.m. for the 8:30 show. The Military Night is July 7, with discounts at all levels for those holding military IDs. Concessions are available, including the signature root beer float, and special refillable buckets for popcorn and cups for floats can be purchased for use during the rest of this season and all of next. The rain check policy states that if a performance is under way more than a half hour before being called, the play is considered complete, and no refunds will be given. Bringing your own bug spray is highly recommended.