Theatre Mirror Reviews - "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"

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entire contents copyright 2004 by Tony Annicone

"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Mansfield Music & Arts Society's current show is Dale Wasserman's "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", a comedy/drama set in 1963. The show was first performed on Broadway with Kirk Douglas playing the lead role of Randle McMurphy. McMurphy is a charming rogue who contrives to serve a short sentence in an airy mental institution rahter than on a work farm prison. He quickly realizes he made a mistake because he clashes with the head nurse, a fierce martinet. He quickly takes over his ward and accomplishes what the medical profession has been unable to do for 12 years, he makes a presumed deaf and dumb Indian talk. McMurphy leads the other inmates out of introversion, stages a revolt so they can watch the world series on TV and arranges a rollicking midnight party with liquor and 2 party girls. For one offense, Nurse Ratched has him submit to shock treatment but she exacts her final revenge on him when she discovers the party and incites him to attack her for her mistreatment of another patient. The final correction is a frontal lobotomy. The script for the play far outshines the movie version because it delves deeper into all the characters especially the the Indian who is given dialogue to help flesh out his character so the audience understands his actions. Directors Kelly Warriner and Judi Kotta cast a strong acting ensemble who handle the comic and dramatic moments with ease and the ending leaves the audience stunned with its powerful impact.

Kelly and Judi pay attention to the ensemble segments of the show which define each character, making each of them different from each other so they are easily recognizable. The main scenes of the show flow well with the exception of the inserted narration of the doctor defining medical terms which works well at first but becomes repetitious all night long. The sanitarium set by Ken Butler and the lighting and sound by Mike Teixeira are excellent and well executed.

Ken Butler not only built the set but plays the lead role of McMurphy. He does a splendid job in this role, making him an endearing but stern taskmaster to his fellow inmates and a taunting antagonist to Miss Ratched. Ken capably handles the comic and dramatic moments, showing his warmth and eventual caring of the others by trying to bring them back to normal life by playing cards, betting, watching TV and playing basketball. One of his funniest lines is when he insults the head nurse by calling her Miss Ratshit and one of his funniest scenes is his first confrontation with her clad only in a towel where he threatens to drop it because she insists he put his clothes back on. (Ken's sideburns also help give the audience the flavor of the 60's hairstyle.) The horrible and meanspirited head nurse is played by Alice Springer. Her lines which degrade the inmates, aides and doctor make the audience dislike the character. You can see her machinations on trying to rid her ward of the meddlesome McMurphy who is helping them more by trying to give them a positive outlook on their lives while she tries to constantly remind them of their failings. Alice makes Nurse Ratched a person the audience hates by the close of the show. The nurse represents the stagnant and regimented behavior of the past while McMurphy's freethinking and upbeat ideas tries to bring about a better future. A commentary on the 1960's which can be applied to current day society in 2004.

Jeff Swaebe is dynamic and powerful as Chief Bromden. Even though some of his monologues have been omitted from this show, the dialogue he does have is splendid. The compassion McMurphy shows to Bromden by giving him a piece of gum as well as throughout the show in trying to help Bromden forget the mistakes his father made in the past and to concentrate on the future. He helps McMurphy escape his final vegetative state at the end of the show because he realizes an energetic person like that would suffer more by being inactive and in bed for the rest of his life. The other inmates do dynamic work in their roles, too. Glenn Fournier plays Dale Harding, the leader of the inmates who can't satisfy his big breasted wife. He is outstanding as he captures the transition of the character from spineless jellyfish into a man who stands up for his fellow inmates by helping the Chief escape and realizing McMurphy helped everyone by making the ultimate sacrifice at the end of the show. Another outstanding performance is by Michael Templeton as the constantly stuttering, Billy Bibbit. He captures the young man's insecurities and gives a tearjerking and gutwrenching performance as the tortured creature. Billy stands up to the bitch after his tryst with Candy, only to have his world come crashing down when Ratched reminds him that she will have to tell his mother everything, leading him to do the unthinkable. Jon Warriner, Kelly's husband in real life, plays the curmudgeon, Scanlon who is building a bomb to blow up the world while Bruce Heller plays the loudmouth, Cheswick who becomes more courageous due to the influence of McMurphy. Joe Solari is the delusional inmate, Martini who continually talks to his invisible friend and Mike Kiernan is a hoot as the lobotomized patient, Ruckly, who walks around the stage aimlessly and is used as a basketball hoop (in the high energy basketball scene) and a crucifix. The comic bimbos in the show are Cindy Ballard as Candy Starr who takes away Billy's virginity and Judi Kotta as her fun loving, heavy drinking friend, Sandra. The girls bring in two bottles of booze and McMurphy mixes the vodka with the cough medicine with hilarious results.

The sadistic and bullying aides are well played by Joe LaGreca and Jay Silvi. They threaten the chief and McMurphy and the others but the chief gets back at Joe when the chief flings him off McMurphy after Joe sucker punches him. The weakwilled Doctor Spivey who is bullied by the head nurse is played by Don Grady. The drunken aide who helps the patients throw the party is played by Paul Fontaine while the timid Nurse Flinn is ably played by 16 year old Andrea O'Sullivan who screams and runs away from the taunting McMurphy. So for a look at the crazy and mixed up life in a sanitarium in 1963, be sure to catch this show at the Orpheum in Foxboro.

"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" (21 - 23 May)
The Orpheum Theatre, 1 School Street, FOXBORO, MA
1 (508) 543-ARTS

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide