Regional Reviews: Phoenix
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Also see Gil's review of Witness for the Prosecution
Set in the 1960s, Randle McMurphy has just arrived at a mental facility. But we quickly learn McMurphy isn't actually crazy but a charming, funny, and rebellious prison inmate who pretends to be insane in order to serve out his prison sentence in the mental ward instead of subjecting himself to the hard labor at a work farm. When he meets the cold and controlling Nurse Ratched, with whom he immediately clashes, he realizes his plan was a mistake. He finds a connection with many of his fellow members of the asylum and helps them get better, until an ultimate showdown between McMurphy and Ratched and a heartbreaking ending that is both sad and uplifting.
Matt Zimmerer perfectly portrays McMurphy's rebellious, yet fun loving nature. While there is little subtlety in McMurphy's rambunctious ways, we still see the care he has for a couple of the men he meets in the asylum, even though with his constant gambling schemes it seems he is using some of them to further his own personal gain. Zimmerer does a great job of portraying McMurphy's boisterous and obnoxious sides, though I wish that when his fellow inmates inform him that Ratched could keep him in the asylum forever that he showed a bit more confusion and fear. While Cathy Dresbach may not have the steely voice and tone other actresses I've seen as Nurse Ratched have had, her sweet, steady delivery has plenty of subtlety in how she uses it for manipulation. But don't let her sweet tone fool you, as once we know that Nurse Ratched is clearly in charge, her chilling smile and calm voice only elevates the performance into one of pure intimidation.
The supporting cast do a fine job portraying the large group of patients, aides, and staff at the facility. Beau Heckman is quite good as the doctor McMurphy attempts to get on his side, and the interactions he has with Dresbach effectively show the struggle between the two for control of the ward. As the two men that McMurphy seems to truly care about, Tony Latham as young patient Billy and Bill Bennett as the paranoid Indian Chief Bromden are very good. Latham's stutter is realistic, and the expressions and downcast looks he exhibits when Ratched talks to him about his domineering and disapproving mother are perfect. Bennett is touching as the mostly silent man who ends up helping McMurphy. Also, Emily Mohney is sexy and sassy as McMurphy's friend Candy.
With the audience situated on two sides of the stage, director Ben Tyler expertly stages the action in the small space that allows for an intimate view into the play's personal moments of pain and suffering. With a large cast he also manages to get distinct portrayals from each of his actors. Creative elements are just about perfect, especially Brett Aiken's simply effective set design. With bright instructional lighting above, a checked linoleum floor below, and padded walls on the sides, we immediately know we are in a mental ward. Tamara Treat's crisp period nurses' outfits and clothing for the men and Matthew Sander's evocative lighting and sound designs are just as good.
While the 1960s forms of therapy mentioned in the play, such as extensive shock treatment and frontal lobotomies, are rarely used today, the fact that they seem so matter of fact in the play only show how far we've come in our treatment of the mentally ill. Wasserman does include plenty of humor and comic moments to help make the drama not a huge downer. Theater Works' production has a more than adequate cast and confident direction with a clear set design that allows for an immediacy and connection with the actors. The result is an ultimately moving production of this classic play.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest runs through April 19th, 2015, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at http://theaterworks.org or by calling 623 815-7930
Directed by Ben Tyler