In these troubled times, when mad men with guns enter schools, churches, synagogues, concerts, nightclubs and any venue where people gather to learn, pray, sing, dance and participate, there is a renewed emphasis on mental illness and the reasons why such tragic events occur. Is the line between sanity and insanity a narrow tightrope walk? When Randle Patrick McMurphy chooses to commit himself to a mental institution as an easy way to fulfill his punishment instead of jail time, he finds himself truly in a madhouse. This fun-loving, gambling fool, this devilish and self-confident rogue, this arrogant and disrespectful of rules hustler quickly locks horns with Nurse Ratched, the titular head and ultimate authority at the mental hospital.
To get a front row seat to the verbal and emotional fisticuffs, book a reservation at West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park’s gripping production of ”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” by Dale Wasserman, based on Ken Kesey’s novel until Sunday, November 18. This is the Playhouse’s tenth season and it is marked by bravery and excellence.
Wayne Willinger is outstanding as the swaggering R. P. McMurphy, who assumes leadership of the patients in his ward as soon as he steps over the threshold, bumping out the unofficial head of the pack Dale Harding (Adam Kee ) without so much as a whimper. His bravado and aggressive stance speak volumes.
McMurphy’s new gang includes Billy (Alex Rafala) an insecure, nervous and shy boy masquerading in a man’s body, Cheswick (Rick Malone) a big talking guy who lacks the courage to follow through on his grandiose ideas, Martini (Harrison Greene) a friendly Italian chap who hallucinates he is in combat, Frank (John Ramaine) who entertains delusions, Ruckley (Ben McLaughlin) who is preoccupied with building bombs and obsessed with destruction and Chief Bromden (Santos), the play’s narrator, a schizophrenic Native American who pretends to be deaf and dumb until McMurphy challenges him to respond.
The talented cast also includes the tyrannical and controlling Nurse Ratched, a strong willed Patricia Randell, who confronts McMurphy in a struggle for power and is willing and eager to go to any lengths to win the war, the ineffectual Dr. Spivey (David Sirois), McMurphy’s girlfriends Candy (Athena Reddy) and Sandra (Katya Collazo) who as prostitutes liven up the midnight party on the ward as well as the staff help (Justin Henry, Lance Williams, Andrew R Cooksey, Jr. and Katya Colazo) who dance to Nurse Ratched’s tune. Ezra Barnes directs this peek into humanity’s dark and troubled souls, revealing their secrets with skill and sensitivity.
For tickets ($25-40), call the Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Street, West Hartford at 860- 523-5900, ext 10 or online at www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m and Sunday at 2 p.m., followed by a Talk Back with the cast. For more information about mental illness, you are encouraged to reach out to NAMI Connecticut, at www.NAMICT.org or call 860-882-0236, ext. 30.The organization provides support, education and advocacy to Connecticut citizens affected by mental illness.
The play’s title comes from a nursery rhyme, “one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” You will not soon forget Randle Patrick McMurphy and his friends and your visit to the Oregon asylum they called home in the 1960’s.