Oregon Stage Works believes that nonstop laughter can help in hard times. With that in mind, the company continues its 2009 season with Larry Shue's popular Broadway comedy "The Nerd."

Oregon Stage Works believes that nonstop laughter can help in hard times. With that in mind, the company continues its 2009 season with Larry Shue's popular Broadway comedy "The Nerd."

Directed by Doug Rowe, "The Nerd" opens at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, and runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through April 26 at Oregon Stage Works, 191 A St., Ashland.

The story concerns Willum Cubbert, an aspiring Midwestern architect who has often told friends about the soldier who saved his life in Vietnam. Cubbert never met the man, and he's delighted when he shows up unexpectedly at Cubbert's 34th birthday party.

But as everyone quickly finds out, the visitor is a nightmare. He is rude, crude and clueless. Even worse, he won't go home. Within a few days he has nearly wrecked Cubbert's friendships, his love life and his career.

Cubbert's desperate search for a way to rid himself of his unwelcome guest only ratchets up the mayhem. Finally, it all ends with a surprising and comically satisfying twist.

"It goes from a warm little romantic comedy," says Rowe, "to a slapstick farce with the surprises that come at you."

Shue was born in New Orleans and grew up in Kansas and Chicago. After graduating cum laude from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1968, he served in the Army for three years during the Vietnam War. Upon leaving the Army, Shue began his career as a professional actor and playwright.

While Shue was playwright-in-residence at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, his first full-length play, "The Nerd," was staged there in 1981. Shue played the role of Cubbert. The play was produced successfully in London's West End and transferred to Broadway in 1987.

Shue's other full-length play, "The Foreigner," premiered at Milwaukee Rep in 1983 before opening off-Broadway in 1984. In the New York show, Shue played Froggy and later Charlie Baker, the title character.

Both "The Nerd" and "The Foreigner" are staples of the professional and amateur theater.

Shue died in a commuter airplane crash in 1985. He was 39.

"Had this man not died he would have been the absolute comic genius of our times," Rowe says. "I've directed about 75 plays in my time and never laughed so much as when directing this play."

Rowe returns to OSW after the recent musical, "Tales of Fannie Keenan, Better Known as Dora Hand." He previously directed at the Pasadena Playhouse and the Laguna Playhouse, where he served for 20 years as artistic and managing director.

Rowe has assembled a team of OSW veterans for his production.

Heading the cast is Jackson Campbell, last seen at OSW in "Witness for the Prosecution" and "Orphans."

He is joined by Sophia Palosaari ("Little Women"), Sam King ("Deathtrap," "Glacial Genes") and Julie Excell ("Little Women," "Glacial Genes").

Tom Wyner, formerly with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the San Jose Repertory Theatre, makes his OSW debut. A narrator for Blackstone Audio Books, Wyner received the 2008 Narrator of the Year Award from AudioFile magazine.

Also debuting at OSW is Greg Younger, whose previous experience includes roles on- and off-Broadway.

Rounding out the cast are Christopher Jossy and Detlef Laughery, both veterans of OSW's Ashland Children's Theatre.

Bill Ritch is producing the show. The stage manager is Tyler Malovoz, who is also in charge of light design. Assistant stage manager is Georgina Holderness.

Set design is by Brian Wallace, with Rowdy Yates joining him on set construction. Sound design is by Campbell. Diana Girvin is costumer for the production; J.C. Cook is in charge of props and set painting is by Charles Couraud.

There is a special general admission price of $15 through Sunday, April 5. General admission for the remainder of the run is $20, $12 for students 21 and under and a $10 student rush.

Tickets are available online at oregonstageworks.org, at the door and by calling 482-2334.