Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Dale Wasserman's 1963 play, adapted from the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, is clearly a work of its time with its theme of rebellion against controlling authority. McMurphy thinks that he'd rather spend time in an isolated mental hospital than working on a prison farm, but he's enough of a free spirit that he can't help butting his head against the regulations. Before long, he organizes the disaffected other patients in a simmering rebellion against Ratched, who keeps control by enforcing conformity.
Detmer has a way of making outrageous characters seem reasonable. McMurphy, a brawler and a gambler, is 180 degrees from the actor's Helen Hayes Award-nominated performancethe ethereal title character of A Prayer for Owen Meany, also at Round Housebut he inhabits this role just as comfortably.
Backing up the two leads are a noteworthy array of character performers ranging from John Lescault as the effete, flamboyantly eccentric Dale Harding to Michael Nichols, who radiates outward stillness as Chief Bromden. The biggest surprise may be Michael Vitaly Sazonov as Martini; he seems to defy gravity as he bounds over the furniture.
Daniel Conway's scenic design ably conveys the soul-destroying monotony facing the patients, topped off by Daniel MacLean Wagner's blunt institutional lighting.
One aspect of the story that seems especially dated is how Wasserman and Kesey present the men of the asylum as victims of domineering, dangerous, all-powerful women. Nurse Ratched is far from the only one: Harding is tortured by his younger, flirtatious wife; hulking Ruckley (Scott McCormick) periodically breaks out of his catatonia to spout disgust over his wife; and Chief Bromden blames his mother for destroying both his father's life and the future of his tribe. In contrast, the most positive female character is Candy Starr (Marissa Molnar), McMurphy's opposite number, who lives for liquor and sex.
Round House Theatre