Mental health and illnesses are topics that all should discuss and be more aware of. Playwright Dan Wasserman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which he adapted from Ken Kesey’s book by the same name, shows the struggles of those affected by mental illnesses and those who do not conform to society. The play is comedic but also tragic. The production at Playhouse on Park, directed by Ezra Barnes, though it has an energetic cast, neglects the need to raise awareness of the topics regarding the health and mental state of individuals.
Set in a psychiatric facility in the 1960s, Randle McMurphy (Wayne Willinger) has been admitted in order to be treated for his odd behavior. Nurse Ratched (Patricia Randell) heads the facility. Nurses are said to be caring and perhaps some of the kindest people one will meet. However, Nurse Ratched, though appearing to care for her patients, is subtlety cruel and uses the vulnerabilities of her patients against them. McMurphy and his fellow patients challenge the tactics and power that Nurse Ratched uses during the play.
Katya Collazo, who plays Nurse Flinn and Sandra, performs two characters who have completely opposite personalities. Nurse Flinn is a devout Catholic, while Sandra is the live in the moment type of person. Collazo performs both characters wonderfully, for when she is performing as Nurse Flinn, she becomes stoic in appearance and composes herself in a formal manner, and when she performs as Sandra, she acts with a free-spirited attitude.
Andrew R. Cooksey, Jr. plays Nurse Aide Turkel, who is responsible of watching the facility during the evening. He perfectly plays a nonchalant officer by the upbeat walking he does around the stage and his relaxed appearance during the whole production.
Harrison Greene plays Anthony Martini, who is one of the patients, and Greene plays his character very well. Anthony sees and interacts with imaginary people, and Greene portrays this by appearing almost out of reality by staring wondrously around the stage and by appearing convinced that there are others around him and his fellow patients.
Patricia Randell plays Nurse Ratched with a caring yet cruel personality. With a warm Southern accent, the audience members hear Nurse Ratched’s charm and mother-like tone; however, when she is upset, the tone of her voice becomes sharp, like a mother rebuking her child.
Wayne Willinger plays McMurphy with a cunning and charismatic attitude. By strutting around the stage and acting as if he represents the patients, Willinger creates a character that is a contender and a threat to Nurse Ratched. The cast of this production is great.
The scenic design by David Lewis creates an almost cold and unwelcoming environment. The metallic doors used in the set provide a sense of seclusion and hindrance, and the pastel green walls depict a fading away of feelings, or rather, a numbness to them. Though the set alludes to the constraints and feelings felt by those affected with mental illnesses and/or other conditions, more measures within the production should have been made to raise awareness and stress the importance of this particular topic.
What can be improved is to further depict the pain and struggles of the patients in this play. During one of the transitions in the first part of the production, as those who play the various patients are moving props for the next scene, they walk in a staggered way, slowly dragging their feet. This shows the heaving burden they experience every day. This type of transition should have been incorporated more often into the production as a way to emphasize how those who have mental illnesses and other conditions feel. Additionally, there should be more emphasis on the individual patients. Just having a brief period of silence with one or two patients alone on the stage would show how alone and empty they may be feeling. By further incorporating additional moments and clever ways to focus on the patients (as a group and individually), the audience members would become increasingly aware of those who experience these illnesses and/or conditions.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is showing until November 18. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, please call (860)-523-5900 or go to www.PlayhouseOnPark.org.