Set in Terre Haute, Indiana in late 1979, The Nerd presents the story of Willum Cubbert (Avery Gerstenberger), an unassuming young architect, who is landlord to friends Tansy (Sara L. Adams) and Axel (Michelle Walker). Tansy is a smart, attractive woman, with a mutual (but unconsummated) attraction to Willum; she is determined to leave in order to pursue a career in television meteorology in Washington, D.C. Axel is a smart aleck drama critic who was once engaged, briefly, to Tansy. The three of them are good friends. Axel and Tansy are present when Willum, during a house party, becomes host to unexpected houseguest Rick Steadman (Steven Walker), who had saved Willum's life in Vietnam.
Over the years, Willum and Rick had exchanged occasional letters and greeting cards, though they never met. Willum has promised Rick that he could come to him for help at any time. While Willum is hosting a dinner party for his client (Warnock Waldgrave (Rhys Wolff), for whom he is designing a hotel), Rick shows up. His awkward manner and inappropriate behavior throw the occasion into shambles. Rick decides to move in, and Willum feels that he can't say no, even when Rick begins to destroy his professional relationship with Mr. Waldgrave. Eventually at his wit's end, Willum decides to take a chance on Axel's plan to get rid of Rick.
What Willum and Tansy never learn is that "Rick" is not actually Rick Steadman, the brave man who risked his own life to save Willum. The intruder is actually an actor, Kemp Hall, who was persuaded by Axel to impersonate Rick Steadman in order to make Willum understand his real priorities. Kemp, playing the nerd, drives Willum almost to (comical) violence as he becomes increasingly impossible to live with. Kemp has also, in the character of a man named Red Graham, been leaving phone messages for Willum, asking him to build a housing estate in Alexandria, Virginia; Axel points out to Willum that this is very close to Washington, D.C., and therefore very close to where Tansy is moving.
At the climax, Willum finally finds what Tansy calls the "gumption" to order Rick out of his home. He declares that he will leave for Alexandria the next day and "court Tansy till she cracks." Tansy agrees that it is a good plan, and the two of them go out for some dinner. Axel is alone in the room and calls Kemp to say, "I think we did it, babe...I think a hundred percent." Kemp joins him: no longer the klutzy Rick, now an urbane, intelligent man. Kemp wonders what the real Rick Steadman is like, and Axel says, "Nice fella, probably." Kemp, who has made Willum's life hell for weeks, says, "Not a bad fellow, your friend Willum." Axel provides the theme of the play when he replies, "He's all right. He just needed to have his life interfered with a little, that's all."
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