If you have ever needed an argument for the intimacy and immediacy of the theatre experience, consider Round House Theatre’s outstanding production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even though the same novel was the basis for an Academy Award® winning 1975 movie, this deeply involving drama impacts the audience in ways that the film could never achieve.
For starters, consider the terrific psychiatric ward set designed by Daniel Conway. The brick walls, tile floors, pharmacy bay, and prison gate door are all painted in realistic shades of institutional green. Every detail, from the mismatched cheap furniture to the bulletin boards and fire extinguishers, are utterly authentic. The harsh overhead lights and the long shadows from the screened window (courtesy of Lighting Designer Daniel Maclean Wagner) and sounds from the intercom loudspeaker and alarms (Sound Designer Neil McFadden) help you feel that you are in the midst of the drama observing real life events.
The play also presents the group dynamics of the mental ward in ways that a movie, full of close-ups and tight shots, has difficulty capturing. Of course, it helps when you have the flawlessly cast supporting group that Round House Theatre has assembled. Each of the mental patients has a distinct and captivating personality, and the actors make the most of their minor moments, achieving laughs with every tool in the actor’s trade, from funny gestures (John Lescault as the intellectual and effete Dale Harding), hilarious movements (Michael Vitaly Sazonov as an Italian-American road runner named Martini), and comically barked out dialogue (Jefferson A. Russell as Scanlon).
The play opens with one of the patients, Chief Bromden (Michael Nichols), addressing the audience. Despite his 6-foot 4-inch statute, Chief Bromden feels small, so oppressed by society and the intimidating Nurse Ratched that he feigns being deaf and dumb. Michael Nichols so perfectly inhabits the role of the initially slow and confused Native American that you forget he is acting.
Kathryn Kelley gives a terrific performance as the manipulative and shrewd Nurse Ratched. She is fascinating to watch as she runs the ward with a serene power that allows her to control the group with an authoritative look or a subtle verbal jab. Kelley makes Nurse Ratched a well rounded character, far from a vindictive stereotype. She seems to believe that she is acting in the patients’ best interests, which makes her all the more believable yet chilling.
Into her carefully controlled world is thrust a charming rogue named Randall P. McMurphy (Matthew Detmer). McMurphy escapes from the drudgery of his work farm sentence for sex with a 16-year old by playing the system for the easier life of a psychiatric patient. This rebellious anti-hero soon clashes with Nurse Ratched in an effort to help his fellow patients a little independence and self-respect.
Detmer gives a bravura performance as McMurphy, the incorrigible rebel. His energetic and charismatic portrayal holds the focus of the audience. He is less successful as providing emotional depth to the character or achieving tension with Nurse Ratched.
When McMurphy sneaks in a couple of friends (including a delightful Melissa Molnar as a good time girl named Candy Starr) for a pre-escape party, the stage is set for tragedy involving the stuttering mother’s boy Billy Bibbit (Matt Farabee). Farabee makes the most of his emotional scene that sets the stage for Nurse Ratched to use her ultimate tool of control against McMurphy. McMurphy’s fate offers a mesmerizing and memorable scene of despair.
Nonetheless, McMurphy’s impact on the other patients give the story a hopeful twist. Chief Bromden finds the strength and confidence to one final action as a tribute to McMurphy.
Director Jerry Whiddon’s direction of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is flawless. He perfectly balances the comedic and the poignant aspects of the story, never letting it descend into melodrama. He helps the large cast achieve a cohesive group performance that perfectly illustrates the themes of conformity and control versus freedom.
Even if you have read the novel or seen the movie, you have not experienced the full power of the story unless you see the Round House Theatre’s spell-binding production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
All photos by Danisha Crosby.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
By Dale Wasserman
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Directed by Jerry Whiddon
Produced by Round House Theatre
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.