An amazing production of Dale Wasserman’s play about the mistreatments of Mental Health in the mid twentieth century is waiting for you at Playhouse on Park. Beautifully directed by Ezra Barnes, with an ensemble cast that maintains each character within the whole, the play takes place within a men’s ward in a state-run Psychiatric Hospital somewhere in the Northwest.
Behavior in the ward is set by a series of rules. A pompous matriarchal Nurse Ratched (Patricia Randell) sets the rules and presides over short bursts of group therapy which all end with her approval or dis-approval of each patient’s responses. She also directs the movements of all the staff, including the Doctor (David Sirois), the Aides (Justin Henry, Lance Williams, and Andrew R Cooksey, Jr.), and her assistant Nurse Flinn (Katya Collazo). We know from moment one that she discounts the staff and the patients and does not listen to any voice but her own.
The rules get aborted, however, when Randle Patrick McMurphy (Wayne Willinger) is committed into the hospital ward as a by-product of a criminal offense. [Most of the men in the ward are self-entered; I.e. not committed]. McMurphy is loud, independent, and rebellious. Most of the “rules” just inspire him to formulate a Plan B. He jostles the others to have more fun, to gamble on the side, to vote for a chance to watch the World Series, and to be independent thinkers. He promises that he will throw a party for them all.
The other men (Adam Kee, Alex Rafala, Rick Malone, John Ramaine, Harrison Greene, Ben McLaughlin) easily respond to McMurphy’s inspiration. That is especially true for Chief Bromden (Santos), a large (!) native-American Columbian Indian who has kept so quiet in the ward that everyone has assumed that he is deaf and dumb. McMurphy gets the big chief to talk and helps him to realize that he is big and strong, unlike his self-image of being too small to get things to change.
In short, McMurphy resets the rules of therapy and helps the men be MEN in charge of their own thoughts and feelings.
When the promised party happens, McMurphy sets up a date with Prostitute Candy Starr (Athena Reddy) for Billy Bibbitt (Rafala) and the two of them go off to Billy’s bed. It is good therapy for young Billy but in the end sets off the sad and powerful conclusion of the drama.
David Lewis set works beautifully, with thanks to Aaron Hochheiser for spectacular lighting and Lucas Clopton for original music and sound. Michelle Sansone’s costumes are appropriate and terrific.
The real impact of this show will bubble up in you a day after you’ve seen it. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from Nurse Ratched and her ideas of therapy. We look backward to where we never want to be again.
Tickets and info at www.PlayhouseonPark.org or call 860-523-5900
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre. November 5