Excerpted from The Toledo Blade, Toledo, Ohio March 11, 2004
Village Players' 'Cuckoo's Nest' shines
By TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
There are lots of laughs in the nuthouse, especially after the new patient, Randle P. McMurphy, checks in.
And it's easy laughter, despite a brewing power struggle that will result in torture, suicide, and death.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, at the Village Players Theatre through March 20, is a fast-paced tale that entertains well even as it provokes and disturbs. Its big (16) cast delivers fine performances, creating one rich character after another. Indeed, some of the "patients" are frightfully convincing.
If it's been a while since you saw the 1975 Oscar-sweeping movie starring Jack Nicholson, this production is worth the price of admission.
Nate Miller plays McMurphy as the larger-than-life creature he was intended to be by playwright Dale Wasserman, who based the script on Ken Kesey's popular 1962 novel. The play debuted on Broadway in 1963.
Miller gives McMurphy an infectious cackle and credible range: he's a sensitive con man, a schmoozer, a truth teller. He hates authority.
His enemy is a little woman with a heart of stone. Nurse Ratched (Suzanne Jennens) is the soul of righteousness, the mother-knows-best disciplinarian who undersands how disruptive freedom can be in a controlled environment.
In group therapy, she reminds the "boys" that the germ of their illness may have been their own parents' leniency toward their childhood infractions. Jennens is a resolute Ratched, but we never feel as if we loathe her as much as she deserves.
Allen Kepke makes a likeable Dale Harding, the "Bull Goose Loony." Erudite and sane, he's there voluntarily.
John Jennens plays the still-waters-run-deep Native American who sweeps the floor catatonically. Illuminated by a shaft of light at the beginning of scenes, Jennens delivers Chief Bromden's late-night prayers to his father with resonance.
Author Kesey was in his mid-20s, getting paid to subject himself to experimental mind drugs and working on the mental ward of a hospital when he began putting the novel together.
Thankfully dating this period piece is that people with mental illness are seldom as vulnerable to abuse anymore, a change in which Cuckoo's Nest may have played a part.
Moreover, it is fundamentally misogynistic. In addition to the sadistic Nurse Ratched, there's the uptight Nurse Flinn.
Poor, stuttering Billy (well done by Jake Gordy) is a 30-year-old virgin terrorized by his mother. The buxum wife of the effeminate Harding flirts shamelessly with other men, and Nurse Ratched points out the obvious inferiority of both Harding's wife and Billy's girlfriend.
The sole female angels are the prostitutes, McMurphy's pals who sneak in for a riotous party.
In this battle for order over anarchy, control over passion, conformity over individuality, there's no clear winner. Nurse Ratched prevails but extinguishes hope. McMurphy does not prevail but ignites hope.
Strong language and profanity are used.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" plays through March 20, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Village Players Theatre is at 2740 Upton Ave. Tickets are $14; $12 for seniors and students. Information: 419-472-6817.
Last Modified: 09/16/12