Mountain Community Theater (MCT) Director Miguel Reyna has spent 17 years engaging the community in the joys of theatre, comedy and music.
Now, Reyna brings a bit of madness to the stage as he hosts Ben Lomond’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from March 18 to April 10. Located in historic Park Hall in downtown Ben Lomond, MCT has produced plays and musicals since 1982.
As the production company enters its 40th year, it’s clear that MCT knows how to captivate an audience.
While many are familiar with the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson as RP McMurphy and Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, the film was an adaptation of the 1962 novel, written by Ken Kesey. MCT’s performance is less film-like and more theatrical in its presentation, with Chief Bromden (played by Avondina Wills) offering short windows into his psyche via monologues as production progresses.
“It’s hard to believe this is really happening, after two very long and turbulent years,” said MCT President Peter Gelblum. “Bringing a fully edited production to our audiences always requires the good work of dozens of people, but it has been even more of an effort this year, with the creation and implementation of Covid protocols and the elimination of rust, in remembering how to do all the things that we used to do by second nature. The fact that we hung on, stayed together, and are about to reopen demonstrates better than any words ever could how much each of us loves live theater and MCT.
Reyna is equally expansive when discussing the resurgence of all things theater.
“I have an absolute passion for acting and have been in love with it since I was a kid,” Reyna said.
Since 2005, Reyna has been in “The Uninvited”, two “Rocky Horror Picture Shows”, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” and “The Twilight Zone”. But the “Cuckoo’s Nest” is a little taste of pre-Covid memories.
“We had chosen to present ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ in 2019, and just as we were about to open – literally two days before – Covid hit, and we shut everything down,” Reyna said. “At that time, we did not know what Covid was, or if it would impact our community, but the MCT Board of Directors determined that it was unsafe to continue production. We were all disgusted – we had worked so hard on the production – but in the end it was the right decision.
Reyna says that after the Delta and Omicron variants moved into the area, the cast was ready to return.
“We have about two-thirds of the original cast on stage,” Reyna said. “This play is like unfinished business, and our cast and crew have an unbreakable bond.”
Reyna’s cast members are equally thrilled to be back home. Ben Lomond’s Shireen Doyle stars as Candy Starr, and she’s enthralled by the character’s small but impactful role.
“I’m so relieved to be back on stage in Candy’s boots, setting the world right with this amazing cast,” Doyle said. “Candy is a chance to play someone very different from my mother and my wife (in real life). It’s a very enjoyable experience to dress and act like an over-the-top flirt. Candy benefits the maximum of his ephemeral passage on stage and his presence adds color and humor to the dark environment of the hospital.
Nat Robinson, who plays Billy Bibbit, views his character’s arc through the lens of his onstage disability.
“Billy’s speech impediment creates a constant struggle to express himself and establish his own strength,” Robinson said. “His life is like trying to climb a rain-soaked cliff, constantly slipping. As an actor, I have to keep Billy’s vulnerability front and center. He has painfully thin skin and that’s sometimes heartbreaking.
Jennifer Galvin stars as Nurse Mildred Ratched.
“The biggest challenge in playing Nurse Ratched is bringing nuance to her character, rather than playing in a one-dimensional take on her being evil,” Galvin said. “The most interesting and compelling villains are the ones in whom we can see glimpses of their vulnerability and humanity, which then can lead to heightened discomfort when you start to see yourself in them a bit.”
Reyna says Kip Allert, who plays the lead role of McMurphy, “found his own McMurphy along the way”, while Wills gives “a force of nature performance”.
“They give everything and leave everything on stage. It’s really exciting, and we’re all ready for it to happen,” said Reyna.
When it comes to getting back into live theater, Reyna encourages viewers to re-examine their perception of entertainment.
“The community can come and see a production that will move them, and perhaps change their lives. There’s something tangible about the live theater experience – there’s nothing else like it,” Reyna said.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from March 18 to April 10. Tickets are $20 in general and $17 for students and seniors. Community night, when all tickets are two for $20, is Saturday, March 19. There will be a post-performance champagne reception on opening night, March 18, and a post-performance conversation with the director and cast on March 27. Tickets can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com. Although there are a few humorous moments, the production is a dark, psychological thriller, earning a PG-13 rating.