While much of the well-deserved success of Mountain Community Theater’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” rests on the insightful direction of Miguel Reyna, it is Kip Allert’s captivating onstage performance as Randle P. McMurphy that audiences will long remember.
Production, now at Ben Lomond’s Park Hall, runs weekends until April 10.
It’s an often unsettling story, especially in the final scene, but it’s mostly done with sensitivity and recognition that this kind of mental and physical treatment should never have happened.
“Cuckoo’s Nest” first saw the light of day in 1962 when writer Ken Kesey wrote a novel about such a place. A year later, playwright Dale Wasserman wrote this play. But it wasn’t until Jack Nicholson brilliantly portrayed McMurphy in the 1975 film version that he gained a large following. (Nicholson won the Oscar for “Best Actor.”)
The Mountain Community Theater production is set in a northern Oregon institution in 1981 with a beautiful set designed by Larry Cuprys. It is a large room with doors and hallways leading in several directions. But above it all, on the left side, is the nurses’ station where the nurses pay close attention to what’s going on with the men in the space below. They also hear everything the inmates say, even if the men cannot hear them.
From the moment Jennifer Galvin steps in as Nurse Ratched, it becomes apparent that McMurphy has met her match. Galvin’s finely nuanced performance seems all soft and benevolent on the surface, but a slight twitch of his mouth lets the audience know he’s getting under their skin. Like a serpentine, she is just waiting for the right moment to strike.
McMurphy worked on a prison farm, but finds that if he starts acting a little crazy, the system will move him to the mental hospital. He thinks he’ll get away with it, maybe playing card games and making money with other patients.
But then Nurse Ratched knocks him over the head with a startling piece of information: He can’t be released until hospital staff determine he’s fit to go.
And guess who runs the hospital? Not the doctors, especially not Dr. Spivey (played unconvincingly by Stephen Phillipps), who does what Nurse Ratched tells him to do.
But before McMurphy finds out he’s stuck, he has a good time with the ragtag group of fellow inmates. There’s the stuttering Billy Bibbit, played sensitively by Nat Robinson who quickly has audiences rooting for him; the obvious leader of the group, Dale Harding, a soft, discreet and intelligent performance by Jackson Wolffe; and Chief Bromden, authentically played by Avondina Wills, who says in his program biography that he dedicates his performance to his Apache and Seminole ancestors.
Shireen Doyle does a realistic job portraying McMurphy’s restless Candy Starr, and while Robin Bates is no doubt intentionally bland as Nurse Finn, she comes to life as Candy’s girlfriend Sandra. (Check out her sparkly shoes!)
In fact, costume designer Sue Ann Guildermann does a great job of pulling together authentic-looking doctor’s, nurse’s and orderlies’ dresses as well as glitzy outfits for McMurphy’s friends. She also gets props for her props, specifically the pushed hospital bed for the last scene.
Thomas Bates and Jay Duffy built the realistic set, which also includes a large window to the outside that can only be opened with a key. Technical director/lighting designer Scott Laird created good lighting throughout the show, including providing a touch of sunshine as the conductor gazes out the window at sunrise. The sound of Ward Willats also works very well.
A great scene has McMurphy and his cohorts negotiating with Nurse Ratched to watch afternoon TV instead of evening so they can watch the World Series. Ratched says if the whole neighborhood votes for an afternoon move, then she’ll accept it. They unanimously vote for the change, so the men turn on the TV and start rooting and shouting as the game begins.
Then Nurse Ratched comes over and cuts the cord. Naturally, the set becomes empty. Just to annoy her, McMurphy asks all the men to pretend to watch the game, yelling and shouting at non-existent players and referees as if they had front row seats.
Obviously, it’s become a game of cat and mouse between Ratched and McMurphy – and there’s only one way to end it.
This is not a show for the young or even the faint of heart. But it’s a stellar production, and Miguel Reyna and the hard-working folks behind the Mountain Community Theater should be proud to have found such a winner after a two-year layoff required by COVID-19.
Cuckoo’s Nest tickets cost $20 in general and $17 for students and seniors. Call 831-336-4777 or visit www.mctshows.org. Park Hall is located at 9400 Mill St., Ben Lomond.