Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
What this staging of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest certainly gets right is the casting of the three lead characters. As Randle McMurphy, the real firebrand of the play, Wayne Willinger has to contend with the memory of Jack Nicholson's iconic performance in the film, as he manages to carve out his own take on the character. The play is set in a ward of a psychiatric hospital in the early 1960s, and it is the appearance of the character of McMurphy that sparks the show. Willinger certainly looks suitable for the part, a little wild and disheveled, and his portrayal galvanizes this production. He is very different from Nicholson, which is good, and his performances is just as viable and superlative.
Louise Fletcher's performance as Nurse Ratched in the film also leaves big shoes to fill, and Patricia Randell is absolutely magnificent, more than able to hold her own opposite the fiery Willinger. Looking crisp and almost frighteningly stern, Randell's portrayal is etched in venom, and, like a snake, this Nurse Ratched can lash out piercingly at any given moment. The fact that she can also appear so pleasant and starchy as she works cunningly with the patients in the mental ward only adds to how terrifying and imposing Randell is in the role.
The third character that looms large in the play is the mostly silent patient Chief Bromden, played wonderfully by Santos. This is a pivotal role, and Santos is a warm and commanding presence onstage. He also serves as a narrator of sorts between scenes, and his relationship with Willinger's McMurphy is deeply moving, especially at the conclusion of the play. Each member of the cast makes his or her own individual mark in the show, with especially touching work by Alex Rafala, as Billy Bibbit. Indeed, the collection of actors playing the patients on the mental ward creates a kind of community in the show, with McMurphy as their ring leader.
The scenic design by David Lewis is antiseptically perfect and the costumes by Michele Sansone seem authentic, which helps form an appropriately cold and clinical atmosphere onstage, with Aaron Hochheiser's evocative lighting design adding to the effect. Director Ezra Barnes largely makes all the right moves in this production, even if it could be tightened up a bit. No doubt, as the run continues, the pacing will likely improve.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, through November 18, 2018, at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd., West Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.