‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ shows its age but packs a punch

Posted on Sat, Mar. 10, 2012

The Kansas City Star

The stage version of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” like the novel, celebrates the chaos of freedom, glorifying the individual in his eternal battle against dehumanizing bureaucracies.

Scott Cordes (Susan Pfannmuller for the Kansas City Star)

So it’s not surprising that the loose-jointed production at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre is a bit chaotic, sometimes by design, sometimes not. But the artists involved find a way to turn any deficiencies into strengths. Director William Christie guides an able cast through this mythic confrontation between the rebel Randle McMurphy and the dictatorial psychiatric Nurse Ratched and ultimately delivers a powerful piece of theater.

Scott Cordes, one might argue, was born to play McMurphy, a decorated Army veteran who nonetheless received a dishonorable discharge. The actor’s persona dovetails beautifully with the character. As a result, McMurphy’s larger-than-life defiance never seems forced. He is what he is – a hard-drinking, brawling, gambling, hooker-loving misfit who can only be stopped by a sledge hammer.

After committing himself to a mental hospital to finish up a jail term (he reasons that the hospital will be a welcome relief from the drudgery of prison work details), he meets his formidable nemesis. Jan Chapman, whose tall stature, chiseled cheekbones and ice-queen smile make her the ideal physical embodiment of Ratched, plays the part with tightly-controlled reserve in counterpoint to Cordes’s loose-cannon antics. In the penultimate scene, her reserve is finally stripped away, and we see the unbridled sadist within as she and McMurphy grapple in a death struggle.

Playwright Dale Wasserman, whose adaptation was first staged just four years after the novel’s publication in 1959, sets the action entirely in the day room of a psychiatric hospital. The novel is told through the internal, surrealistic, perceptions of Chief Bromden (played by Ari Bavel), a mountainous and presumably deaf-mute Native American, and Wasserman tries to capture some of that imagery with dreamlike monologues. In this production, those are recorded voice-overs that might have worked better if Bavel had simply been allowed to speak them onstage. But for the most part Wasserman settles for a straight narrative, which gives the play a much more prosaic feel. Even so, it’s still a story that sucks you in. Read the rest at kansascity.com.

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