Monday, November 12, 2018

Review of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

The Playhouse on Park production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest appears rather tame. Even though the action takes place in a state mental institution the atmosphere is one of rollicking exuberance Instead of a more somber and grim environ.  The overall playfulness and light-heartedness of the patients belies the serious underpinnings of the subject matter.

L - R, Wayne Willinger as McMurphy, Harrison Greene as Martini, Rick Malone as Cheswick, Santos as Chief Bromden, John Ramaine as Scanlon, Adam Kee as Harding, Kataya Collazo as Nurse Flynn, Patricia Randell as Nurse Ratched.  Photo by Curt Henderson.

The dramatic arc revolves around the most recent admittee, Randle McMurphy, a boisterous, good time fellow who likes to follow his own rules.  Very soon he butts heads with head Nurse Ratched, a by-the-book, authoritarian staff member who feels empowered by her command over the patients.  She sees the new man more as a threat than someone needing psychiatric attention.

From the very beginning, McMurphy takes over the ward as the alpha male.  He cajoles, bosses, and takes charge of the other patients, an assortment of troubled individuals.  They appear at times both comfortable in their antiseptic environment and despising their setting.  His free-wheeling attitude and actions, however, run diametrically opposed to the prescribed system, which leads to his ultimate downfall.

A show centering on mental health is very timely as programs to address the crisis in the United States are woefully underfunded with both in-patient and out-patient treatment facilities lacking in resources and staffing.  But, while the clashes and conflicts of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest occur in a sanatorium, the focus is on the locking of horns between the two main protagonists.  For the most part, the mental health problems of the patients, which are brought out in the Ken Kesey novel and is the source material for Dale Wasserman’s adaptation, serve as window dressing.
L - R, Adam Kee as Harding, Wayne Willinger as McMurphy, Ben McLaughlin as Ruckley, Patricia Randell as Nurse Ratched.  Photo by Curt Henderson.
The acting troupe is a mixed bag of supporting players that fill out the cast and central figures within the production.  Wayne Willinger’s McMurphy has the requisite devil-may-care, flippant attitude, but his character is lacking the necessary, sustained undercurrent of menace and vulnerability.  Patricia Randell’s Nurse Ratched portrayal is more in line with an old-time librarian scolding her charges rather than a calculating woman with an Icy, imposing demeanor.  Alex Rafala, who plays Billy Bibbitt, the emotional scarred momma’s boy, gives the best performance of the show.  He convincingly portrays a troubled youth who at times is obedient, a risk-taker, and a person in crisis. The actor Santos, who plays Chief Bromden, is a bit too catatonic in the role as opposed to someone radiating an inner strength.  His internal soliloquies also lack an emotional depth.

Director Ezra Barnes successfully conveys the boredom and mind-numbing repetition of the patient’s lives.  Working with Scenic Designer David Lewis and Lighting Designer Aaron Hochheiser, he achieves the ambiance of a sterile, institutional setting with mismatched, metallic furniture and glaring fluorescent lighting.  The thrust of the production, thought, feels more like an episode from the playbook of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters which can, at times, distract from the central thrust of the production.  The match of iron wills between McMurphy and Nurse Ratchet comes across as tepid.  The final scenes concerning Billy and McMurphy lack a dramatic edge.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an admirable, but flawed production, playing at Playhouse on Park through November 18th.

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