BWW Review: Theater Uncorked Flies High With ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
A Staged Reading
Written by Dale Wasserman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey; Directed by Bobbi Steinbach; Produced by Shana Dirik; Stage Manager, Kailey Bennett; Front of House Management, Ozlem Uluoglu, Asli Cakim; Lighting and Sound, Gene Dante; Lighting, Mike McTeague
CAST (in order of appearance): Pedro Figueroa, Jon Smalls, Paul Yarborough, Kerry A. Dowling, Ivy Ryan, Ray O'Hare, Jackson Baron, John Manning, Robert Saoud, Billy Jenkins, Taylor Hilliard, Gene Dante, Becca A. Lewis
Performed by Theater Uncorked, October 13 (3:30 and 7:30 pm), at Martin Jewett Hall, First Church Cambridge, 11 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA
Theater Uncorked returned to the First Church Cambridge this past weekend for two performances of a staged reading of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, a 1963 play by Dale Wasserman, based on the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. Perhaps most widely-known for the 1975 Academy Award-winning film starring Jack Nicholson, the story is set in a psychiatric hospital where the authority of Nurse Ratched is not to be questioned. Enter rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy to challenge not only the iron-fisted overseer, but also to take on the processes and assumptions of the entire institution while standing up for the underdogs.
The massive cathedral of the First Church was the venue for Theater Uncorked's impressive inaugural production of Sweeney Todd in June, but the smaller, more intimate Martin Jewett Hall stood in for the psych ward, allowing the audience to have closer observation of the nuances of the actors/inmates. There was nary a weak link in the ensemble, and the leading players were so strong in their characterizations that my mind drew a blank when trying to imagine anyone else as Ratched (Kerry A. Dowling), McMurphy (Gene Dante), or Chief Bromden (Pedro Figueroa). Despite the fact that the trio was not entirely off-book, their recitations were seamless, with or without script in hand, so that it was never a distraction when they needed to glance at the printed words.
Dowling's take on the sociopathic head nurse was chilling as she spoke in soothing tones one minute, and became like an abusive drill sergeant the next. Her calculations were evident in her eyes, while her rage displayed itself via sneer, vocal volume, and aggressive body language. Dante took a deep dive into the cocky, unhinged McMurphy, and assumed command of the sad, scared bunch in the day room. His was an authentic, compelling performance that gave a sense of urgency to McMurphy's mission. He would defeat Nurse Ratched, improve the lives of his fellow patients, or die trying. Perhaps his greatest success was the bond he formed with Chief, and Figueroa inhabited the big, presumably catatonic, character with dignity and heart.
Ray O'Hare (Dale Harding) and Jackson Baron (Billy Bibbit) were especially good in their respective roles. One of the voluntary residents, Harding could occasionally speak up to Ratched with less to lose, and O'Hare walked the tightrope between being afraid and asserting himself. Baron handled Bibbit's stutter and anxiety as if he had lived with those conditions, and conveyed the young man's growth through the story with credibility. Fine performances from Ivy Ryan (Nurse Flinn, Candy Starr) and Becca A. Lewis (Sandra) as the party girls who visited the ward, and Robert Saoud (Cheswick), John Manning (Scanlon), Billy Jenkins (Martini), and Taylor Hilliard (Ruckly) as the remaining patients. Jon Smalls (Aide Warren) and Paul Yarborough (Aide Williams) added some nasty menacing in support of Ratched, while Yarborough's Dr. Spivey was no match for her authority.
Lest the inmates run the asylum, the strong directorial hand of Bobbi Steinbach kept the chaos under control, presumably in a kinder, gentler way than Ratched's managerial style. Her staging made it feel like so much more than a reading, especially in the group scenes, where the bonding and banter among the patients rang true. Although there was no set and a minimal number of props and furnishings, the acting captured our imagination, allowing us to "see" things that were referenced, but not actually shown. Lighting (Dante and Mike McTeague) and sound design (Dante) enhanced the action. With One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Theater Uncorked has another feather in its cap.
(Next up: Sylvia by A.R. Gurney at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, April 18-21, 2019)
Photo Credit: Mary Dennis Photography (Paul Yarborough, Gene Dante, Robert Saoud, Pedro Figueroa, Jackson Baron, Jon Smalls, John Manning, Ray O'Hare, Billy Jenkins)