Intriguing Drama At Ivoryton

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

Some experts claim, “…there is just one step between genius and insanity.”  Others contemplate who is crazier, the powerful that impose artificial restrictions, the too willing conformists, those who can’t comply and escape society through mental illness, or the individuals who rebel against situations that everyone else takes for granted?  History records that many, so-called “crazy non-conformists,” were imprisoned and executed for their eccentric behavior, while others caused revolutions and became great heroes.  Could it be that we are all crazy to some degree and that it’s simply a matter of power, sometimes vested in just one individual (whether competent or not) that rules many societies today?  At Ivoryton Playhouse, in Dale Wasserman’s psychological drama, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the forces of power and craziness come to play in the microcosm of a mental ward.

In this highly structured, institutional environment, the patients are conditioned through threat of physical punishment, to obey the medical and recreational routines as dictated by a rigid Nurse Ratched (Andrea Maulella).  Ratched’s main objective is to keep the patients drugged and calm. The sadistic nurse is not running a democratic institution and coldly treats her wards as hopeless, non-human beings. 

Everything is going Nurse Ratched’s way until Randle McMurphy (Daniel Sullivan) enters the scene and livens things it up with his sharp cynicism and extroverted personality.  Soon a power struggle ensues between this new, rabble-rousing patient and Nurse Ratched. As things develop, McMurphy seems to be saner than the chief doctor and his administrating staff combined.  Although McMurphy was labeled a dangerous psychopath, one wonders if he manipulated his jail sentence -- figuring he would be let out earlier.  Little did he realize that once committed, there is no hope of returning to the outside world.

What makes this play so interesting is the clever writing – the insightful inclusion of humorous highlights and the careful building of tension.  Best of all, rarely does one get to see such a moving, live-performer as Daniel Sullivan, who plays troublemaker McMurphy.  His portrayal is so real that the most minute, facial expressions, the alert eyes, cocked head and swaggering street-strut rival award-winning Jack Nicholson in the film version.

We can’t help laughing at how Sullivan manages to organize the mental patients to defy the rules, in order to watch The World Series on TV. And, we thoroughly enjoy the illicit after-hours sex initiation party McMurphy secretly arranges with his outside girlfriends.  The tender emotional bond that he forms with the overgrown Indian Chief (Solomon Landerman – who resembles the “Lenny” of a few words in “Of Mice and Men”) is truly touching.  Although her diction is sometimes muffled, Andrea Maulella is a believable Nurse Ratched. The rest of the large cast, under the direction of Peter Locker, is excellent.  It’s worth an extra effort to see this wonderful production at Ivoryton.  The subject matter will leave you wondering about the current treatment of institutionalized mental and elderly people.

Plays through Nov. 21                                      Call:  860-767-7318

This review appears in On Connecticut Theatre/Nov. 2010

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