‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ packs powerful punch
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This aphorism is clearly evidenced in the total control that the head nurse and staff have over the mental hospital inmates in the comedic and horrifying 1963 stage adaptation by Dale Wasserman of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” now playing in a fine production at the Nevada Theatre.
In this antiestablishment play, the head of the ward, Nurse Ratched, represents everything that is repressive and conformist in opposition to new inmate, R.P. McMurphy, the unlikely protagonist, who represents anarchy and individuality. Although this play was initially produced early in the turbulent ’60s, it isn’t at all dated because the qualities of human nature embodied in the characters – stubbornness, despotism, pride, courage, cruelty, playfulness – are timeless and universal. Each inmate, nurse, doctor, aide and party girl represents varying aspects of us all.
Jimmy McCammon both directs and plays McMurphy, doing a laudatory job of both. As director, he commendably recreates the claustrophobic atmosphere and characters of a mental hospital and their daily interactions and reactions. As an actor, he invests his character with an affable but manic quality – you like McMurphy, but not totally, although you root for him against Nurse Ratched, who is convincingly played by Trish Adair like a fitted glove enclosing an iron fist, ready to smash down at the least provocation.
The other cast members fully embrace the distinctive qualities and quirks of their characters, making each believable and individual. Danny McCammon’s interpretation of the stuttering, awkward Billy Bibbit, terrorized by Nurse Ratched to keep him submissive, is particularly noteworthy.
For a first stage appearance, Farrell Cunningham is effective as the dehumanized and supposedly deaf and mute Native American, Chief Bromden.
When I entered the theater, I immediately scanned the set and thought it perfect for the play. Marci Wolfe, the set adapter, colored it institutional green with lots of dull metal, creating a truly inert set, thereby conveying exactly the confining and monotonous ambiance of a mental ward. And the lighting of designer Erin Brighting nicely contributes to the sometimes torpid, sometimes raucous, sometimes disconcerting mood.
If you haven’t ever seen “Cuckoo’s Nest,” I recommend you go see this admirable production, running through Sept. 25 at the Nevada Theatre. If you have previously seen it, go check out how a fine group of community actors brings a marvelous play to life.
Hindi Greenberg first saw “Cuckoo’s Nest” in San Francisco in 1971 at the beginning of its more than four-year run. It was an amazing play then and remains so now.
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