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House guest from hell
Little Theatre of Savannah presents <i>The Nerd</i>
Chris Heady as Rick Steadman, a.k.a., the Nerd - photo by Jim Morekis

EVERYONE HAS KNOWN ONE— that aggravating house guest who just doesn’t know when to go home.

The sidesplitting play The Nerd takes this concept to new heights. The Little Theatre of Savannah will present The Nerd Nov. 16-24, and director Grace Diaz Tootle is certain audiences are going to love it.

“It’s written by a hilarious playwright, Larry Shue,” Tootle says. “It’s broad comedy, pure silliness.”

The Nerd was first presented by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, then produced in England, and finally taken to Broadway. Shue, who died at the age of 39 in a plane crash, is best known for The Nerd and another comedy, The Foreigner.

“The play takes place in Terre Haute, Ind.,” Tootle says. “It was written to take place in the early ‘80s, but we made minor changes to update it to now.”

The protagonist of the play is a likeable young architect named Willum Cubbert. “He’s a very sweet guy, exceptionally nice,” Tootle says. “But he lacks gumption, as his girlfriend says.”

One of Willum’s favorite topics is the story of Rick Steadman, the man who saved his life after he was wounded in the Gulf War. He never actually met the man, but praises him highly.

“On the night of his 34th birthday party, he’s delighted when Rick shows up at his door,” Tootle says. “However, Rick turns out to be a house guest from hell, the nerd of the title. Rick stays on and on, and the normally placid Willum finds himself contemplating violence.”

There are other complications in Willum’s life. One is that his girlfriend, Tansy McGinnis, is about to leave town to become a weather girl in Washington. “He lacks the gumption to do something about it,” Tootle says.

Willum’s best friend is Axel Hammond, his polar opposite, personality-wise. “He is a classic curmudgeon, extremely sarcastic,” Tootle says.

“Axel is the drama critic for the newspaper, so he always has to leave the theater 30 minutes before the show ends because of his deadline. He never knows how the show ends.”

Willum has invited his boss to the party. Warnock “Ticky” Waldgrave “hasn’t smiled in 40 years and then it was gas.”

Ticky has brought along his wife, Clelia. “She’s a teacher who works with slow learners,” Tootle says. “She has issues with anxiety, and is bordering on hysteria at all times.”

The Waldgraves bring their son, Thor, with them. “He’s a brat,” Tootle says.

Poor Willum must deal not only with his guests but the newcomer who shows up at his door after the guests have arrived. “He’s trying to impress his boss and in comes the nerd,” Tootle says.

“He just doesn’t leave and William can’t bring himself to make him leave,” she says. “One ridiculous thing after another happens. It’s just plain silly.”

The Nerd is the season opener for the Little Theatre of Savannah, which has a long but erratic history. “The Little Theatre of Savannah may be the oldest community theater in Savannah,” Tootle says.

“Because the Old Savannah Theatre was sold, it kind of lost its home. Everyone tried to put on shows, find places to stage shows, but we were in jeopardy of losing it.”

That’s when Tootle and other community theater enthusiasts realized it was time to do something. “We decided to make this thing happen,” she says. “It’s been a real community effort.”

Other theater companies in Savannah came forward to help make The Nerd a reality. D.J. Queenan, director of the city’s Cultural Arts Theatre, arranged for the cast to rehearse at S.P.A.C.E., the city’s arts space.

Kelie Miley, director of the Savannah Children’s Theatre, also let the cast rehearse at her space on Victory Drive. And Ryan and Sasha McCurdy offered space at their theater, the Savannah Actor’s Theatre, for The Nerd’s performance dates.

“Through all this, it’s coming together,” Tootle says. “The budget will be low because everyone is helping.”

Members of the cast in order of appearance are Justin Kent as Willum Cubbert, Samantha Glaudel-Smith as Tansy McGinnis, Eric Smith as Axel Hammond, Harold Glover as Warnock “Ticky” Waldgrove, Lynita Spivey as Clelia Waldgrove, Wyatt Tootle as Thor Waldgrove and Chris Heady as Rick Steadman, the nerd.

The actors have a wide rage of experience. “We’ve got Lynita Spivey, who is probably our most seasoned performer, and Harold Glover, who’s never been in a play in his life,” Tootle says. “They’re all very talented and very funny.”

The biggest challenge in directing the show has been the pacing. “Comedy is difficult to direct, even when you have funny people,” Tootle says.

Everyone in the cast is so busy, it was difficult to set rehearsal times. “I’m a single mother of four who works odd hours while trying to be there to shepherd my children to their different activities,” Tootle says.

The cast members all work and some go to school. “If it weren’t for the commitment of the cast and their commitment to making it be as good as I want it to be, I don’t know whether it would have worked out,” Tootle says. “But it worked out beautifully.

“I’m sitting in rehearsals, cracking up,” she says. “We’re just dissolving into laughter constantly.”

The play is family friendly with no inappropriate contest. However, Tootle warns, one character does use a profanity (God d—n) at times. “It might be offensive to some,” she says.

Other than that, The Nerd is a comedy to be thankful for. It opens the day after Thanksgiving, and Tootle hopes folks bring their holiday guests to the theater.

“Everyone will have a lot of people at their houses, and here’s a great opportunity for the whole family to go together and have a good laugh,” she says. “It could be a great way to spend the Thanksgiving weekend. People will certainly come away happy to have been there.”

Heady was recommended for the role of Rick, the nerd, by a friend. “To get into character, I’ve been looking at different nerds throughout history,” he says.

“I took things from the Nutty Professor, Weird Al Yankovich, Urkel, your classic nerds,” Heady says. “I try to keep doing the voice for the duration of the play, but it’s really very hard. I even tried to find a certain walk for Rick, and the way he stands. I really tried to make him a complex character.”

At first, Heady told the others he couldn’t be in the show because of his busy schedule. “They told me to send it over, they would make it work,” he says. “Turns out everyone in the cast has as difficult a schedule as me.”

Heady is a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design and also busses tables at Lady & Sons. “They’ve been really good and supportive about the whole thing,” he says.

“I’ve been trying to become more independent from my folks, so I need my job,” Heady says. “This has proved to be a very interesting quarter.”

At SCAD, Heady is majoring in dramatic writing and minoring in theater. “That way I have a choice,” he says. “If you are a theater major, you’re required to audition for every SCAD play. This way, I get to choose.”

A junior, Heady has appeared not only in SCAD productions, but also at the Savannah Actor’s Theater, where he did Crazyface and Pvt. Wars. “My true passion is puppetry,” Heady says. “Eventually, I want to make my way to New York or California. I want to open my own theater company and specialize in puppetry and introduce it to the masses.”

Kent is a big fan of comedy, and he read about The Nerd before auditioning. “It sounded like it was going to be a lot of fun,” he says. “When I read the script, I found it to be one of the most hilarious things I’d ever read.”

Willum is “a milquetoast kind of guy,” Kent says. “He doesn’t stand up for himself. People take advantage of him because of that, but he kind of overcomes it during the course of the play.

“One of the characters, Tansy, is a pseudo love interest, but because Willum doesn’t have a spine, it’s very awkward between them,” Kent says. “His good friend, Axel, says everything Willum would love to say, but never can. Around the nerd, Willum just tries to keep his sanity.”

Under Tootle’s direction, the show is turning out just fine, Kent says. “Grace is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “She has a great sense of comedic timing.

“The show is so hilarious in its own right, so well written, and then we have a great cast,” he says. “Some nights, someone will deliver a line and I can’t keep a straight face. We have a lot of fun.”

Kent lived in Indiana, and went to college in Terre Haute. “I was heavily involved in community theater there and toured with an improvisational group,” he says.

“I moved here about nine years ago and this is the first community theater production I’ve been in here,” Kent says. “I was working with youth at Sanctuary Church, teaching theater and doing shows there. I went to school for theater for about a year and studied at Second City in Chicago.”

Like everyone else in the cast, Kent has little free time. “My job schedule, especially the last couple of weeks, has had me working from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” he says. “I go to rehearsal after that and see very little of my family.”

But Kent believes the effort will be worth it. “It’s just hysterical,” he says of The Nerd. “It’s just so, so funny. I can’t stress enough how funny it is.”

The Nerd will be presented in eight performances on Nov. 16, 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 17 and 24 at 3 p.m. at Savannah Actor’s Theatre, 703D Louisville Rd. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors, military and students with valid ID, and $10 for children. Make reservations by calling 631-3773 or by e-mailing Tickets will be available at the door prior to performances or can be purchased online at