THE BASICS: This, the Dale Wasserman (“Man of La Mancha”) adaptation of Ken Kesey’s famous novel, has been directed by Michael Lodick for the Subversive Theatre Collective, and plays weekends at the Manny Fried Playhouse through December 4th. Thursday nights are pay-what-you-can. CUCKOO, with its single intermission, runs approximately two hours and fifteen minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place in the day room of a state mental hospital somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. R.P. McMurphy, a feisty misfit doing time, gets himself transferred to a mental asylum for what he thinks will be an easy final stretch. What he finds, though, is a highly repressive, police-state-like environment presided over by the dread Nurse Ratched. McMurphy rallies the cowed inmates, sowing the seeds of a rebellion that is at first invigorating and joyful, but ultimately tragic.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: This was apparently Kesey’s preferred treatment of his novel, and the Subversives make quite a point of that in the skimpy program. I say, who cares? The film still packs a wallop, and was honored with a rare sweep of the five top Oscars in 1975. Jack Nicholson was indelible as McMurphy; this was one of his very finest roles. So the Subversive’s Thomas LaChuisa, is, by necessity, an also-ran. His glib banter in Act One does not ring true, but he grows on you in Act Two, as the comic mask falls off and the character deepens. Diane DiBernardo is just fine as the cruel, icy Ratched. It’s too bad that the author(s) give us so little insight into her character. Lodick and Co. were lucky to land Victor Morales for the key supporting role of Chief Bromden. I don’t think anybody in town could have played it better. Morales doesn’t steal the show, but he very ably and convincingly provides it with its moral compass. Other standouts in the large (16 member) cast are Elliot Fox as Harding, the well spoken, intellectual inmate, John Kennedy as the boisterous Cheswick, and Connor Graham as Billy Bibbit, the cute, weak, stuttering young man who McMurphy tries (unsuccessfully) to bring “of age”.
Morales doesn’t steal the show, but he very ably and convincingly provides it with its moral compass.
Director Lodick encourages his players to overact, with Bryan Figueroa and Rich Kraemer, as the ward aides, being the two most egregious offenders. Lodick’s set, unusually detailed for the Subversive stage, has just the right institutional feel. And with a color scheme suggestive of the Seattle Seahawks, no less! The playbill art, drawing a ludicrous analogy between R.P. McMurphy and Jesus Christ, was apparently a Kurt Schneiderman contribution. Oy!
IN SUM: I would characterize the Subversives’ CUCKOO NEST as “a good try”. The long, meet-the-characters first act barely kept me awake, but some solid, gutty drama eventually rises to the fore, in act two. Too bad the “proliteriat” again takes it on the chin here. They ultimately turned into bad guys in the last Subversive production—URINETOWN. Who knows? Maybe someday Schneiderman et al. will put on a show where the “people” win, and we will all walk out feeling uplifted!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!