Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Vivid, stylish ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST at Spectrum Theatre Ensemble

Review: Vivid, stylish ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST at Spectrum Theatre Ensemble When Ken Kesey dropped acid while working as a night orderly in a mental health facility back in 1960, he had a revelation. Seeing the hospital and its patients with expanded perceptions convinced him that it was the institution, not them, that was "insane," and this insight animates his novel, "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." The Spectrum Theatre Ensemble has mounted a vivid, stylish production of Dale Wasserman's play that captures this spirit in a powerful evening of theater.

The plot is likely familiar from the novel and 1975 film: Set in the dayroom of an institution, a group of long-time residents are ground under the thumb of authoritarian orderlies and nurses until the arrival of a new patient, Randle Patrick McMurphy, a malingering conman avoiding jail, throws the system into chaos.

The story centers the experience of Chief Bromden (Jay Walker), a Native American who appears to be unable to speak or hear, but who relates his backstory in a series of conversations with an imagined father. Walker does an outstanding job at switching between his slow, dull presentation on the ward and allowing us into his reveries.

Director Clay B. Martin has coached outstanding performances all around, and has placed and paced the action with thought and precision. It is one of the highest compliments to the casting and direction that, before even being named, those familiar with the story will know exactly who the actors are playing when they enter.

Daniel Boyle inhabits the role of Dale Harding with assurance and empathy. Geoffrey Besser's Billy Bibbitt is deft, deep study of a tortured, fractured personality. Cheswick (David Adams Murphy) and Martini (Daniel Perkins) are rich and well-crafted, as is the difficult, near wordless role of the lobotomized Ruckly (Adam Almeida). Adam D. Bram does a delightful, grinning turn as the bomb enthusiast Scanlon. The supporting cast of hospital staff and visitors are equally skilled, with strong performances all around.

Madison Weinhoffer is icy perfection as the antagonist, Nurse Ratched; utterly controlled, with silky menace as she threatens Bibbit, looming over Dr. Spivey, hitting just the right notes of sublimated rage as she confronts McMurphy. Teddy Lytle plays McMurphy big and loud -- perhaps missing an opportunity for a bit more headroom to build in key moments -- and with an unflagging energy and enthusiasm that makes his reversals in Act II all the more powerful. His scene with Bromden where he punches through the Chief's shell and convinces him he could be "big" is a standout moment.

This is an intensely stylish production. Max Ponticelli's rusted gray set adorned with gears, both metal and stenciled, with its towering central nurses station is authentically chilling and bureaucratic. The costumes (Kat Fortner) and props (Justin Stanley) draw heavily on a steampunk esthetic, with Nurse Ratched wearing a nurses cap adorned with antennae and a spooky facial appliance. Each of the patients wears an appliance thematizing their obsession (Scanlon's nest of finger-wires is a delight). These all perfectly enact the point-of-view of the narrating Chief Bromden, who imagines the machines of the numinous "Combine" everywhere.

Andy Russ's sound design is full of ambient menace, underscoring scenes with an institutional murmur and hiss. The pre-show music offers a sly wink, ending with Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" just before curtain.

The Spectrum Theatre Ensemble deserves kudos for this highly successful first full production. This new theatrical organization of neurodiverse artists has a mission to evolve "the awareness, resources, and professionals that empower our neurodiverse community in achieving equal opportunity and full participation in society." They have certainly achieved that goal here.

"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," by Dale Wasserman, directed by Clay B. Martin, at the Wilbury Theatre Group, 40 Sonoma Court, Providence, RI, 02909. Performances Thurs-Sat August 29-31, 7:30pm. Tickets $30, Seniors $25, Under-30 $20, Students $10 available at The show features warnings for sensory-intense moments.

Photo: Spectrum Theatre Ensemble.

Photos: Burbage Theatre Co Presents Kate Hamills SENSE & SENSIBILITY Photo
See photos from Burbage Theatre Co's playful adaptation of Jane Austen’s timeless classic Sense & Sensibility.

The Festival Ballet Providence to Present THE NUTCRACKER This Holiday Season Photo
The Festival Ballet Providence, well known for their curated ballet and dance series, educational programs and community outreach returns to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium December 16-24 with their fresh, new The Nutcracker.

Aurea Ensemble Presents Dylan Thomas A CHILDS CHRISTMAS IN WALES  Photo
Aurea Ensemble presents its annual holiday concert, A Child's Christmas in Wales on Sunday, December 11, 3pm at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, 50 Orchard Ave, in Providence.

AUREA ENSEMBLE TO PRESENT ANNUAL HOLIDAY CONCERT: A Magical Amalgamation of Music and Word Photo
Aurea Ensemble will present its annual holiday concert, A Child's Christmas in Wales on Sunday, December 11, 3pm at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, 50 Orchard Ave, in Providence.

From This Author - John McDaid

John G. McDaid is an award-winning science fiction writer and freelance journalist from Portsmouth, RI. He grew up in NYC, where visits to Broadway sparked a life-long love of theater. He worked bo... (read more about this author)

Review: SILHOUETTE OF A SILHOUETTE at Wilbury Theatre GroupReview: SILHOUETTE OF A SILHOUETTE at Wilbury Theatre Group
October 3, 2022

Rose Weaver has impeccable credentials: a highly respected actress, singer, and writer, whose star turn as Aunt Ester in last season's 'Gem of the Ocean' at Trinity was transcendent. Alas, the world premiere of her new play, 'Silhouette of a Silhouette' at the Wilbury aims high, but never quite soars.

Review: MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY at Brown/Trinity MFAReview: MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY at Brown/Trinity MFA
September 24, 2022

The production by Brown/Trinity MFA brings this post-apocalyptic nightmare to vivid life with memorable performances and jaw-dropping visual style that make this show a must-see.

Review: MEN ON BOATS at Contemporary Theater CompanyReview: MEN ON BOATS at Contemporary Theater Company
August 27, 2022

Explore the Colorado River in this taut, compelling — and darkly funny — production at the Contemporary Theater Company.

Review: WAITING FOR GODOT at The Colonial TheatreReview: WAITING FOR GODOT at The Colonial Theatre
August 11, 2022

Over its 70-year history, Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot' has been staged in many venues, but Colonial Theatre's current production offers a most congenial outdoor setting in Westerly's Wilcox Park. Combine that with stellar performances all around and deft, assured directorial choices, and you have a compelling evening worthy of the material.

Feature: Contemporary Theatre Company Cuts Ribbon On New SpaceFeature: Contemporary Theatre Company Cuts Ribbon On New Space
July 28, 2022

Wakefield's Contemporary Theater Company held a grand opening July 28 for a new theatrical space overlooking the Saugatucket River. The half-million dollar facility connects wieth their outdoor performance patio and comprises a new rehearsal room/classroom, a new lobby, outdoor audience balconies, and enhancements to the patio space.