The Steppenwolf Theatre Company - Chicago’s edgy gift to American theater - has a reputation for big, brash, and invigorating revivals of lesser-produced plays of the last half century. Every so often they breeze into town latest work in tow, and New York always takes notice. The quality may vary from production to production, but Steppenwolf, in one way or another, never disappoints.
Such is the case with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which opened last night at the Royale Theatre. Almost 40 years old, the play itself, by Dale Wasserman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey, is looking a lot like lurid melodrama these days. But that doesn’t matter much. You should see what entertaining things Steppenwolf, and director Terry Kinney, can do with lurid melodrama.
It’s the actors that matter, of course, in this play which is at heart a battle of giants. Gary Sinise as the basically honest anti-hero Randle P. McMurphy vs. Amy Morton as Nurse Ratched, the manipulative and vindictive, but ever so calm and falsely compassionate authority figure.
McMurphy, landing himself in a mental ward, fights a futile battle to liberate his fellow mental patients from the psychological and emotional controls exerted by Nurse Ratched. She ultimately wins - it could end no other way - but at a cost which diminishes her absolute control over her patients. Both Sinise and Morton develop well rounded characters, even though they at times seem to be approaching them from unexpected directions. They are a well matched pair, equal in almost every way, and watching the strategy of their battles play out is the delight of the evening.
In a brilliant supporting cast, one actor in particular, Tim Sampson as the supposedly deaf and dumb Chief Bromden, in a wonderfully slow and confident performance, brings to the stage a poignancy and meaning which provides this play with moments of greatness.
Terry Kinney’s direction is faultless and gives Cookoo’s Nest an admirable cohesive and inevitable quality. The set design, by Robert Brill, deserves a Tony nomination by reason of its authenticity and pure theatrical bravura, as does the lighting design of Kevin Rigdon. The original music and sound design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen work well. The projections designed by Sage Marie Carter are either interesting or annoying, depending on your point of view.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Dale Wasserman, based on the Ken Kesey novel. Directed by Terry Kinney. Scenic design by Robert Brill. Costume design by Laura Bauer. Lighting design by Kevin Rigdon. Sound design and original music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. Projections by Sage Marie Carter. Starring Gary Sinise. Also starring Amy Morton and Ross Lehman, Tim Sampson, Danton Stone, Rick Snyder, Eric Johner, Alan Wilder, K. Todd Freeman, Mariann Mayberry.
Theatre: Royale Theatre, 242 West 45th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Audience: Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes, with one 10 minute intermission
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2:30 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Ticket prices: $75, $60 and $40 Wednesday matinee $57.50, $45 and $30
Tickets online: Tele-charge
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Tickets by snail mail: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998