Playwright: Dale Wasserman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey.
Venue: The Edge Theatre, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood Colorado.
Company: The Edge Theatre Company
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance: Thursday, June 13, 2013.
Dale Wasserman's script for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place in a mental institution, the very place where we try to separate the sane from the insane and "treat" the insane. Randale P. McMurphy, a malingering convict trying to serve out his sentence in the relative comfort of a mental institution, is introduced into the mix of patients under the care of Nurse Ratched and Dr. Spivey.
It's a perfect construct. We see how the sane, but conniving McMurphy fares in the hands of mental health professionals. Feigning insanity, rebelling at every opportunity, McMurphy would quickly be returned to prison if the mental health system works as expected. Of course, it doesn't.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a very ambitious undertaking for The Edge. It's a large cast (15-16) on a small stage, requiring careful blocking, lighting, and direction. Despite the challenges, the production is seamless. Director Rick Yaconis has made full use of every inch of the stage, while managing the intricate entrances and exits needed with such a large cast.
The set is simple but effective. One gets the sense of being in the "institution," complete with the doors, windows, and a nurses station. Lighting is "spot on." At several points in the performance, Chief Bromden (Sam Gilstrap) is alone on a darkened stage for a monologue. In each case, a single spotlight is used to great dramatic effect, lighting the Chief while he talks to his ancestors.
|Left: Scott Bellot (McMurphy) Right: Sam Gilstrap (Chief)|
Gilstrap does something that is surely difficult for an actor: he pretends he's deaf. The illusion is complete; he does not respond to any speech, noise, or commotion. Those who haven't seen the play (or the movie) might be surprised to learn that it's an act. When he finally speaks, one marvels at the sound of his voice and the depth of his thoughts. Gilstrap creates a convincing, powerful Chief who finds himself by the end of the play.
The patients who shuffle on and off stage (listed below) are at times frightening, charming, and puzzling. They display a variety of mental issues, ranging from delusional to catatonic. I think it no insult to say that each and every patient on this stage is convincingly crazy. Joe Von Bokern (Billy Bibbitt) is outstanding; he flawlessly delivers lines that require repeated stuttering. Besides the stuttering, though, Von Bokern must create a Billy who is vulnerable, innocent, and tragic. His performance brings out that vulnerability and innocence which ultimately contributes to his tragic end.
Nurse Ratched is the villain here, and Jada Roberts is a sufficiently evil and menacing Ratched. She never cracks a smile, unless she's getting the best of McMurphy. Roberts plays Ratched somewhat sympathetically. She doesn't really dislike the patients, she's just following the rules. That those rules are senseless, oppressive, degrading, and damaging to the patients is not her concern.
Maggy Stacy adds some spice, some heat, and some fun to the cast in her role as Candy Starr ("a common prostitute"). Stacy plays a floozy with flair, at times stealing the scene from Chief, Billy, and McMurphy.
Those have seen the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will remember Jack Nicholson playing Randle P. McMurphy. That is one tough act to follow, but Scott Bellot is more than equal to the task. He plays McMurphy with a swagger, a wink, and a smile. He brings a mix of attitude, energy, and mischief to the performance, all of which are genuine traits we would expect in McMurphy. I'm also told by some of the female audience members in the first row that his shirtless look is "hot."
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a work that entertains, makes us laugh, but ultimately reveals much about how we treat our friends, families, and neighbors with mental problems. It is much more dark than funny.
Despite their mental issues, each patient, in his own way, retains a great deal of what makes us all human beings. That they are treated so poorly may make you uncomfortable. That we, collectively, are responsible for a system that could swallow up a sane person (McMurphy) and totally ruin him may also make you uncomfortable.
And that, I think, is the ultimate value of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. We are reminded that we may someday be judged by the way we treat the "least" among us. It's a reminder, sadly, that we truly need.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at The Edge is a sobering theater experience. It is also a theater experience not to be missed.
|One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Photos by Rachel D. Graham for The Edge Theatre Company.|
GRATUITOUS SOAPBOX COMMENTARY
If any reader has the impression that the treatment of the mentally ill as depicted in the 1960's has somehow magically been remedied, please disabuse yourself of that notion. Consider this: while recent gun control debates have emphasized the problems with the availability of weapons for the mentally ill, there is little likelihood that anything will change.
Nor is the issue limited to treatment of the mentally ill. Other vulnerable individuals whose care is left to the professionals routinely suffer similar results.
If nothing else, perhaps The Edge and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will be a catalyst for a few individuals to take action. Changing the system is difficult, perhaps impossible. But there is honor in the effort, and a chance that even the poor, defenseless and weak among us may someday be treated with dignity.
For that, I thank The Edge and the cast and crew of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. May your contribution to the community someday be remembered as the difference you made by putting on a powerful, provocative One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Photo Credits: Rachel D. Graham for The Edge Theatre Company.
This show closes on June 30, 2013.
There is some strong language and some disturbing violence in this performance, so use discretion if you want to bring children.
Pre-show dining suggestions: Elephant Bar or Ted's Montana Grill in the Belmar area. Both restaurants are within a few minutes of the theater.
Director: Rick Yaconis
Scenic Design: Justin Lane
Lighting/Sound Design: Alex Ruhlin
Costumer Design: Caroline Smith
Cast (The Staff):
Dr. Spivey: Randy Diamon
Nurse Ratched: Jada Roberts
Nurse Flinn: Kelly Ann Dwyer
Aide Warren: Peter T. Marullo
Aide Williams: Ryan Danielson
Aide Turkle: Donovan Arterburn III
Cast (The Patients):
Randle P. McMurphy: Scott Bellot
Dale Harding: Ken Street
Chief Bromden: Sam Gilstrap
Scanlon: Leroy Lenard
Cheswick: John Greene
Martini: Ryan Goold
Ruckley: Bob Byrnes
Cast (The Guests):
Candy Starr: Maggy Stacy
Sandra: Amanda Flageolle