I never really knew how much effort went into the creation of student-produced plays until I attended one.
The Nut Case was performed over two evenings, and as I sat under the dim houselights of the MiST theatre, I observed the meticulous care and commitment exhibited by the members of UTM’s Drama Club. Cast members ran back and forth carrying tables, shoes, and gift bags onstage—props that would be used during the performance.
Written and directed by Hannah Gilbert, a third-year student, The Nut Case follows the tale of Thomas Dunne (Michael Ruhs), who is devastated when his fiancée Cheryl (Gillian Lonergan), abandons him at the altar. As Cheryl reveals when she later visits the despondent Thomas at his apartment, their relationship had been strained by Thomas’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Thomas is an erratic character with some very odd mannerisms that successfully drew laughter from the audience. For example, he has a tendency to tinker with the light switch each time a guest visits his house—a habit that is later described as a “demonic ritual” by Cheryl’s sister Margaux (Mo Zeighami), the woman with whom Thomas is having an affair.
But despite each character’s complicated personality, what impressed me the most was the excellent performances delivered by all the cast members. Ruhs portrays Thomas’ eccentricity well—constantly fidgeting and delivering evident sarcasm through his dialogue. Cheryl, who arrives later in the play, is made out to be an unlikeable character from the start, with Thomas constantly demeaning her early on in the play. However, when Lonergan steps onto the stage, her sweet voice transforms Cheryl into a conflicted woman whom I instantly sympathized with. Her love for her fiancé is marred only by her fear of his disorder, and the overly sentimental part of me yearns to justify her abandonment of Thomas at the altar.
However, it is Mack Burton who steals the show with his hilarious yet dark portrayal of Neil Dunne—Thomas’ seemingly uncouth and lazy brother, who (spoiler alert) murders Cheryl in a fit of rage.
The range of emotion in the script was enormous; I laughed when Neil quipped about how he didn’t really “lose” his job, since he “knows where it is”, and I cringed as Neil smothered Cheryl with a pillow after she mocked his subpar parenting abilities.
The play was written in a witty and humorous style that masks the darker film noir elements of the plot. I thought it was especially well written because of its ability to naturally incorporate comic relief amidst scenes of high tension, such as the confrontation between Thomas and Cheryl. Despite the high stakes, I found myself chortling along with the other audience members each time Neil or Thomas dropped a joke.
Moreover, Cheryl’s murder added a grim twist to what at first seemed like a lighthearted play. Her murder, and the consequent interrogation of Thomas, provoked a strong reaction. Of course, knowing that Thomas was innocent of the murder, I felt frustration and sorrow brew inside me as I watched Thomas suffer through the injustice of his interrogation.
As the play concluded and the cast members took their bow, I applauded with fervent energy for their outstanding performances. The Nut Case was a truly engaging play, and though it was handled by students from beginning to end, it was without a doubt a play worth seeing.