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REVIEW: 'Cuckoo's Nest' offers good performances, but few surprises
Who: Theatre ’d Art and Star Bar Players
Cast: Jason Lythgoe, Alysabeth Clements Mosley, Jon Andujar, Greg Lanning, Christian O’Shaughnessy, Dylan Mosley, Jim Campbell, Kevin McGuire.
Playwright: Dale Wasserman
Director: Michael Lee
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including an 15-minute intermission.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, closes Sunday
Where: Theatre ’d Art, 128 N. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $15, $10 seniors and military, $5 students with ID, Sunday Special: Pay what you can for unreserved seat; 357-8321, theatredart.org,
First, it was Springs Ensemble Theatre’s “The Lion in Winter.” And then, the Fine Arts Center’s “Prelude to a Kiss.” Now, a collaboration between Theatre ‘d Art and the Star Bar Players offers up another play with a cinematic doppelganger, Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” (“The Odd Couple” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” have yet to open.)
“Cuckoo’s Nest” runs through Sunday.
It’s a smart strategy, really, because there’s a built-in audience for the familiar, made so through TV, Netflix and oh yes, the big screen. Many ticket buyers come with the film in mind, especially in the case of works like “Cuckoo’s Nest,” an iconic film that virtually cemented Jack Nicholson’s image as an individualist and general wild man.
That can either work for it or against a live production.
Here, the Milos Forman film and Dale Wasserman’s play co-exist well enough. Director Michael Lee and his cast deliver a respectable rendition with some transportive moments, but with few surprises and not enough of the ready-to-explode tension you’d expect here.
You’ll likely recognize the story: Randle McMurphy (Jason Lythgoe) wrangles his way out of hard prison labor by feigning crazy, consequently ending up a state mental hospital. There, he continues his anti-authoritarian ways in a guerilla war with the reigning matriarch, Nurse Ratched (Alysabeth Clements Mosley). The other patients — some with real mental issues — reap the benefits of McMurphy’s insurrection without the repercussions that their friend incurs.
This is an unusual partnership and perhaps not surprisingly, I saw more of Star Bar’s old-school influence here than Theatre ‘d Art’s out-of-the-box POV. That’s with the exception of the little speech the “hospital’s director” made before the show began. It attempted to blur the line between reality and fiction, which is a favorite interest of Theatre ‘d Art. The gesture was amusing, if impossible to execute successfully.
The problems with this production are relatively small. The ward loudspeaker, which is the auditory stand-in for authority in general, isn’t nearly intrusive enough to represent Ratched’s oppressive authority. And Jonathan Andujar’s Chief Bromden, who is more central in the book and the play than in the movie, is a tall man, but not quite the sequoia that it takes to loom over key members of the cast. That lessens the impact of his role, especially in the face of jokes about his size from men his height or taller.
Most bothersome, though, is the loud rock music coming, in the second act, from a live band downstairs. It shattered the all-important moments of the play’s wrap up, including Bromden’s final goodbye to McMurphy. The company has asked for the restaurant to lower the volume on the Friday show and it looks likely.
The performances? All are solid. As patients, Greg Lanning, Christian O’Shaughnessy, Kevin McGuire, Jim Campbell and Dylan Mosley conjured performances that are individual enough to stand apart from the ones all-stars such as Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd created in the film.
But it’s the triad of McMurphy, Ratched and Bromden that drives the work.
Lythgoe created an energetic McMurphy, the kind of guy who slaps you too hard on the back as he gaffaws at a bad joke. He has made the character too likeable, to the point that McMurphy’s coarse, inappropriate and larcenous side is lost in his affability. Without that volatility, his battle with Ratched lacks the charge it requires. Still, it’s impossible not to enjoy his little victories — for instance, foiling Ratched’s attempt to prevent the ward from watching the World Series.
If McMurphy is all sparklers and Black Cat fireworks, Clements Mosley’s Ratched is a nuclear bomb wrapped in Christmas paper. She unravels her pretty, but steely Ratched nicely — from velvet fist to out-and-out humiliated to The Man. I especially liked some of the quiet details Clements Mosley brought to the role: the small silver hoop at the top of one earlobe (a particle of rebellion) and the word “Ratched” written on the bottom of her shoes (her mania for control).
In between the two, Andujar carves out a small, timid man out of his grizzly bear frame. Bromden’s other-worldly monologues the precede some scenes are heartfelt but sometimes seemed adrift from the arc of the main story. Andujar takes Bromden on a lovely journey, which is quietly believable, even sweet.