“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on the provocative Ken Kesey novel of the turbulent ’60s, was adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman in 1963, where it played on Broadway for a mere 82 performances. The 1975 movie won five Academy Awards. A Broadway revival in 2001 earned Tony’s for Best Revival and Best Actor (Gary Sinise).
Since then, the movie has become a classic, while the play hasn’t been seen in these parts, partly because it takes a lot of work and imagination to create a believable set and find 16 capable actors to play some pretty intense roles. Artistic Director Ed Shea has employed the talents of director Mark Peckham in the past and has turned to him once again to take this production and carry it to new heights.
Set and lighting Designer Trevor Elliot scores big with every set he has created for 2nd Story, and this one is no exception. Watch out, Eugene Lee!
The audience is brought into the mental institution through the surroundings of a day room, overlooked by a glass-encased nurse’s station and surround by huge barred windows. Enter the inmates, a conglomeration of pitiful souls under the control of a conniving Nurse Ratched, who cleverly controls their every move.
At first I thought that Tanya Anderson was too small and too sweet to play the overpowering tyrant I remember from the movie. But watch out! This woman is 10 feet tall and as sweet as the bitter pills she hands out to those who defy her.
Enter Randle P. McMurphy (Aaron Morris), a fast-talking, violent, uncontrollable character who has chosen a mental institution over prison. He wastes no time in challenging Nurse Ratched’s authority and influencing the inmates in making changes to the strict rules, procedures and punishments they must endure.
Author Kesey was a true ’60s rebel. Read about him in Eileen Warburton’s essay when you arrive a few minutes early. You get a true feeling for his contempt for authority and rules of society, as you watch McMurphy challenge the institution’s authority.
There are too many fine actors to mention, but Jason Quinn must be singled out for his role as Chief Bromden, the Native American (“Indian” in those days) who pretends to be deaf and dumb until push comes to shove and McMurphy helps him discover his “bigness.”
I was also impressed with Kevin Broccoli’s interpretation of Harding’s character. Broccoli is an emerging presence on the Rhode Island theatre scene, and Peckham got a perfect interpretation of his character from him.
It comes down to survival of the fittest, and it all isn’t fun and games, as Nurse Ratched uses her power to control even the toughest foe.
Shea, Peckham and company have taken on an explosive play and revived it for all it is worth. This is powerful theatre, folks. Be advised that there is some language, sexuality and violence.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren through April 7. Call 247-4200. Tickets are only $25 and, as Shea always tells his audiences, “Tell four friends.”