In 1975, a little film came out called ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. Sweeping all major Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor and Actress for Nicholson and Fletcher respectively, the film is consistently on “Top 100” lists. For a theatre, taking on CUCKOO’S NEST is a scary proposition, as it requires acting the part of a mental patient, but never in a degrading way. The danger is in going overboard. The patients in Forge’s production, directed by Wendy Mirto, accomplish this in a stellar way.
The play opens with Chief Bromden (Jared (Goody) Good) talking to his late father in the moonlight. Good is effective as he switches to catatonia on a dime. We then switch to the primary set, the community room, which is an authentic set straight out of the 1960s. For those who have never experienced the Forge, it is extremely small, but set designers, Clem Mirto and Josh Gould, use every space to their advantage. The doors to the theatre look like they could be from an actual institution, and the actors use them to go in and out (as in a hospital ward). Whether intentional or not, I liked how the white of the uniforms could be seen in the darkness through the doors, as it added an eerie quality to the set. The combination Muzak and carousel music that Nurse Ratched (Gina DePaolis) believes in constantly playing adds a surreal effect to the scenes.
DePaolis plays Nurse Ratched almost like an elementary school teacher. The character needs to be extremely strict. As Harding (Hal Holzer) says, “She is a very strict lady.” Then he calls her something more derogatory. Holzer is wonderful as the know-it-all “President of the Psychopath Society”. He has a dry sense of humor, such as when he plays the minister to Billy and Candy’s “wedding”. Holzer plays Harding like the “father-figure” of the patients. Nowhere is this more prevalent than at the last scene.
Randle P. McMurphy is so associated with Nicholson that a less-seasoned actor might try to copy his every nuance from the film. Eric Jarrell is fabulous as the rebellious McMurphy, trying desperately to keep his sanity and trying to get the other patients to stand up for themselves. Jarrell knows no bounds, screaming with maniacal laughter, showing the patients that just because they are locked up does not mean they cannot bring normal pleasures into the ward. The scene between Jarrell and Good, when Good finally speaks, is especially poignant.
This production belongs to the patients. While McMurphy and Ratched are the leads, the ensemble is so important to the real message of CUCKOO’S NEST. Billy Bibbitt (Jeff Cronin), Cheswick (Josh Gould), Scanlon (Clem Mirto), Ruckly (Wings Wisneski), and Holzer as Harding are constantly in character, especially in group meetings. Again, the danger is in going overboard, and these actors never do in their twitches and fidgets. A special mention goes to Jack Roberts, as Martini, the hallucinator. I find it difficult to believe that this is his first play, as he never loses his character, even when he is just in the background. Hopefully he will have a long future in theatre.
These actors should be proud of their performances. CUCKOO’S NEST is certainly not easy, but I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to this hospital.
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST
Book by Ken Kesey
Adapted by Dale Wasserman
Directed by Wendy Mirto
September 9-24, 2011
241 First Avenue
Phoenixville, PA 19460