ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST Soars at The Eagle Theatre

by Jack Shaw

Richard Smith as Chief Bromden, and Matt Dell’Olio as Randall Patrick McMurphy in The Eagle Theatre's production of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, running through June 30 in Hammonton, NJ. (Photo credit: Chris Miller)

The Eagle Theatre production of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman and directed by Ted Wioncek, III in Hammonton, New Jersey is not for the soft-hearted or sensitive, so you may want to bring tissues if you fall in that category. Aside from its stirring message the play was highlighted by high energy and powerful performances as well as stunning sound and lighting effects that served to enhance this masterful performance.

Yes, these are the same folks who have brought you quality musicals as Stage Left and Collaborative Stage Productions, but things change. Now, both Wioncek, III and Ed Corsi are The EagleTheater’s co-artistic directors and you will find not only musical theatre, but also serious dramas and comedies in their repertoire. As with their musicals you can expect professional quality and creativity in the other areas as well.

CUCKOO’S NEST is definitely worth seeing. I am fairly familiar with the show and the novel, and totally enamored with both as having a strong message. It is a tough play to do as an actor. You have to be able to be schizophrenic in one of its many varieties and be changed by the presence of Randall Patrick McMurphy, who comes on the scene as a petty criminal happily accepting his sentence to a mental institution as opposed to prison. The actors all did a fine job. I was especially impressed with Richard Smith as Chief Bromden who tells the story. I’ve seen this show done where the chief breaks his catatonia for a moment, moves and delivers several  monologues that way, but here it is different and stronger–and far more satisfying. Wioncek’s decision to use recorded monologues seems right on.

The set was interesting, bringing out the archaic nature of mental institutions as intended by the author. The play is intended to be an indictment of mental health procedures and society’s part in handling them in the 1950s. Today these same psychological problems can be dealt with in a therapist’s office, not an institution. The techniques used here were semi-successful in achieving the goals of therapists of the day, and we know now, there were subsequent issues related to their use. Sound and lighting, as with most shows done at The Eagle, was impressive.

If I have any problem at all with show, it is an acting or directing issue.  In the first act when we first meet McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, I thought McMurphy (Matt Dell’ Olio) should have been more charming than angry and Nurse Ratched, played by the very pretty Angela Smith, more controlling. Her smile and attitude was not enough to truly control those on stage. While Dell’ Olio could have been less rough, Smith could have been tougher. Maybe I was stuck with the image of a young Jack Nicholson with his Cheshire cat grin and Louise Fletcher’s stark and stiff appearance in my head to sway my expectations a little. It is hard to forget these Academy Award winning performances.

Angela Smith as Nurse Ratched and Matt Dell’Olio as Randall McMurphy. (Photo credit: Anthony Jacobsen)

Granted, Ms. Smith was probably not what you or I would have expected to see in the role visually, but she made up for it in the second act (so does Dell’ Olio). After awhile, her acting, despite her natural beauty, took my first impressions to task and made all the difference. Suddenly I didn’t care that she was a beauty as I’m sure the audience didn’t; she did such a great job making the part believable–her way. First impressions. And even a man (McMurphy) with spider web tatooed on his head can have charming moments. While some may not agree, I think we have to find a reason to like McMurphy so we can truly feel sorry for him later, and see Nurse Ratched as the control freak that she represents. Admittedly both pull it off at the end.

As for the other actors, I found their performances equally strong, but I’d like to have seen more consistency in maintaining the schizo personas they also created–as difficult as that may have been.  All in all, I was not disappointed with the actors’ or director’s choices, but it would have been interesting to see if they could do it. Now, this was opening night so there is still time to relax into those roles a little more.

Wioncek put together a masterful production with breathtaking sound and lighting as well as acting performances to a very powerful and poignant end. You can’t ask for much more than that: a well-done show, deserving more praise than I can give. See it. You won’t be sorry.

Based on the novel by Ken Kesey

Adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman
Directed by Ted Wioncek, III
June 15-20, 2012
The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton NJ 08037

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1 comment

Jack Shaw
Jack Shaw June 18, 2012 - 1:21 pm

Everyone in the cast deserves kudos for doing this show and it is a great show. The flaws in my opinion are minor and, believe it or not, are typical of CUCKOO’S NEST. Still, it is among the best I’ve seen. Sorry I didn’t have space to go name by name. There was no one I didn’t like. Jason Cutts as “Billy” was impressive were the other inmates: John Jerbasi as “Scanlon,” Paul Weagraff as “Harding,” Jonathan Fink as “Martini” and Nicolas Muni as “Cheswick.” Let’s not leave out Matt Dell’Olio as “McMurphy” or Angela Smith as “Nurse Ratched.” Richard Curcio’s “Dr. Spivey,” even though it was a small part, was right on. The show’s narrator and centerpiece remains “Chief Bromden” played very effectively by Richard T. Smith. All will remain in my memory as one of the best of classic contemporary theatre performances.


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