It goes without saying that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a classic. The novel took readers inside a mental institution, humanized the patients inside, defined the “battleax nurse” stock character, and opened eyes to some cruel medical procedures. The film version is highly regarded and often considered one of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances. So barebones productions had a good idea staging the play version of the story, a piece that injects both humor and brevity into a serious operation (get it? It’s in a hospital).
Upon entering the New Hazlett Theater you’re greeted with a ton of stage fog and an intimidating set. All the action takes place in the common room of the mental hospital. In the back right corner of the set is the nurse’s station, complete with sliding glass windows and a microphone that broadcasts Nurse Ratched’s voice over an appropriately tinny PA. There are some chairs and tables set up in the room, and the side windows have bars on them. The balcony seats have “barbed” wire coiled on the railing, and lighting instruments sit on top of the walls like they’re ready to catch an escaping prisoner. Nothing is overlooked in this set; the production team didn’t phone in any details and the payoff is spectacular.
If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a basic explanation. The intimidating Nurse Ratched (Kim Parker Green) runs a tight ward in a mental hospital. She’s an intimidating presence and does everything just so. Her rule over her patients is challenged when a tough guy convict named R.P. McMurphy (Patrick Jordan) is transferred to the hospital, as he is trying to avoid spending time in prison. McMurphy’s refusal to follow the strict rules puts him at odds with Ratched, and the two soon begin a battle to see who really has control of the ward.
There are some really strong performances amongst the large cast; both Mr. Jordan and Ms. Green do a great job with handling these well-known characters: Mr. Jordan is a charming scamp while Ms. Green has her chilling monotone locked down. Randy Kovitz steals some scenes as Dale Harding, probably the most rational patient in the whole hospital. Nick Lehane supplies the somber tragedy as stuttering Billy Bibbit, while the best comic relief is provided by Michael Lane Sullivan as the squinting schizophrenic Martini.
The antics and plots that the characters get themselves into are familiar if you’ve read the novel or seen the film. While it’s usually a story that plays out somewhat slowly, the stage version tends to hurry things along a bit. At times it feels like maybe the relationships between the characters hasn’t had time to gel yet, but the actors succeed in portraying a familial group. The script also gives between-scene monologues to the silent Chief Bromden (Leandro Cano) that, while effectively performed, don’t seem very relevant to the rest of the story. Or maybe it’s been a while and I missed something. Sometimes the really crazy people are in the audience, know what I mean?
Barebones productions has created an overall chilling evening. The performances are strong, the set is beautiful, and there are some nicely done special effects. If it’s maybe been a while since you’ve familiarized yourself with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (or if you’ve never seen it), go check out their production.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Presented by barebones productions
Directed by Melissa Martin
Written by Dale Wasserman, based on novel by Ken Kesey
Designed by Tony Ferrieri (scenery), Andrew Ostrowski (lighting), Dave Bjornson (sound), Angela Vesco (costumes)
Starring Leandro Cano (Chief Bromden), Billy Jenkins (Aide Warren), Maurice Redwood (Aide Williams), Kim Parker Green (Nurse Ratched), Magan Yantko (Nurse Flinn/Sandra), Randy Kovitz (Dale Harding), Nick Lehane (Billy Bibbit), Mark Tierno (Cheswick), Dave Manseuto (Scanlon), Michael Lane Sullivan (Martini), John Gresh (Ruckly), Patrick Jordan (R.P. McMurphy), Dereck Walton (Dr. Spivey), Wali Jamal (Aide Turkle), Erika Strasberg (Candy Starr).
Special thanks to barebones productions for complimentary press tickets. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest runs through May 7th at the New Hazlett Theater, tickets and more information can be found here.