Every institution needs to be shaken up now and again, to clear the bureaucratic cobwebs and offer a fresh start.
In Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” that force comes in the person of new mental patient Randle P. McMurphy (Jeffrey Jones), a wisecracking wheeler-dealer who has feigned mental illness in order to get out of the work detail specified by his prison sentence.
McMurphy is horrified by the zombie-like patients he meets who seem to have been psychologically beaten into submission by control freak Nurse Ratched (Kristianne Kurner). The nurse doesn’t need physical force; she grinds her charges down by pointing out their weaknesses. That and the threat of electroshock therapy or lobotomy is sufficient for her to get her way with mere suggestion.
But McMurtry will instigate insurrection and soon there will be gambling on card games, a basketball team, visits from hookers, even encouragement to disobey Nurse Ratched. This cannot end well, but the ride is both funny and sad to watch.
Ion Theatre’s Claudio Raygoza deftly directs the madhouse at New Village Arts Theatre, keeping his stable of fine actors in character but not over the top, so that this play can be taken as comedy only in a limited sense. This script – and this production – are much sadder and more thought-provoking than the famous Jack Nicholson film adaptation.
Jones is masterful as the brash McMurphy, fast-talking (sometimes a bit too fast for clarity) bulldozing and scamming his way through life but determined to at least try to liberate his fellow inmates.
Kurner exudes the confidence of one who knows she has the system fairly molded to her wishes. Kurner doesn’t present herself as an ogre or a witch; just as a nurse trying to do her job ... but one who wants things done her way.
Each character in the large cast is exactly right. Brian Abraham’s presumably catatonic Chief Bromden shows that he’s been beaten by what he calls The Combine, but he’s anything but catatonic.
Justin Lang, the most articulate of the group, serves as president of the Patients’ Council, has his own sad story. Kyle Lucy’s stammering teenager Billy Bibbitt will break your heart. John Tessmer’s Ruckley, victim of a botched lobotomy, now sees himself as a Christ figure.
Scanlon (Eddie Yaroch) has fantasies of blowing things up; Cheswick (Tim West)
talks a big game but action is slow to come. Martini (Max Macke) is delusional.
Durwood Murray and Elijah Howlett play Ratched’s hand-picked daytime Aides; she has them trained to do exactly what she wants.
David Macy-Beckwith plays the ineffectual psychiatrist Dr. Spivey; Kristin Woodburn the afraid-of-her-shadow day nurse Flinn; Ron Marchand the aging black night man, Aide Turkle.
Rhianna Basore and Samantha Ginn amuse as hooker Candy Starr and her friend Sandra.
This is a funny story, to be sure, but more than that it is a cautionary tale about the flattening effects of society on the individual.
Kudos to Raygoza, his fine cast and New Village Arts for this fine production.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” plays through April 21 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.
Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.