One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -- Another Time? Another Place?

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

You would think that it is difficult and complex to direct a play with several characters with various personalities.  But Peter Lockyer makes it look easy as he presents a wonderful production of Dale Wasserman’s play One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

Based upon Ken Kesey’s 1950s novel, the play takes place in a mental institution that is run by Nurse Ratched (played by Andrea Maulella, more about her later) with military precision.  Into this regimented society drops Randle Patrick McMurphy (the craggy Daniel Robert Sullivan) a petty criminal who has opted for six months in a mental institution as opposed to six months in a prison work program.  To him this is a vacation and he treats the other men in the institution as fellow vacationers.

Of course this doesn’t go down very well with the head nurse but the other inmates enjoy it immensely and join in a variety of antics urged on by McMurphy.  He is chastised for this and threatened with not only punishment but physical correction.  The cap of this contest is a party that McMurphy holds with his girlfriend and one of her friends who are smuggled in along with several bottles of liquor.

Nurse Ratched breaks up the fun and games and physically removes McMurphy in a straitjacket from the group. But McMurphy’s attitude affects all of the inmates, especially Chief Bromden (an imposing Salomon Landerman) who throughout the play is withdrawn as he communicates with his dead father and his American Indian past. Before it’s all over, Chief Bromden has left the institution returning to his natural past.

This is a swift moving play that keeps your attention through both of its acts and has you questioning the kind of situation that keeps people, some by choice, institutionalized.

Lockyer’s direction brings out a variety of facets and possibilities.  The conclusion may not be what all may wish for, but it, along with what takes place preceding, is designed to make a statement about the human condition.

Speaking of the human condition, Nurse Ratched is depicted as little more than a jailer who keeps her charges under control.  Andrea Maulella is fine – watch her eyes -- in that role, especially at the end.  When we first meet her she projects a softness that clearly is not in character as we find as the play progresses.  Perhaps this is intentional, since McMurphy apparently also thinks of her as a soft touch.  He finds much to his and our chagrin that he is a mistaken.

This is a terrific production of an extremely interesting play that had a brief run on Broadway but later set all kinds of records as a film starring Jack Nicholson. As precursors of the Beatnik revolution and the ‘60s love generation, Kesey’s novel and Wasserman’s play are perfect introductions. Ivoryton’s production brings us back to that time and perhaps reminds us of the struggles that took place and may still be taking place.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is at the Ivoryton Playhouse through Nov. 21.  For tickets and information contact the Playhouse at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

This review appeared in Shore publications.


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