Friday, July 25, 2014

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Blank Canvas Theatre

Interesting, how time changes our perceptions. Back in the 1960s, when Ken Kesey wrote the book on which this play is based, mental institutions were an accepted fact of life. Sure, they were probably awful, but at least there were places to put people suffering from mental deficits of one sort or another. 

Now, in the enlightened 21st century, we let many people with severe mental disorders live amongst us, in communities that are rife with firearms. And we’ve wept through some of those consequences. 

Still, the denizens of this particular mental hospital, in Dale Wasserman’s adaptation, seem remarkably passive and medicated. Until the outrageous and extroverted Randle P. McMurphy shows up and starts to roil the waters, angering the day room dominatrix, er, Nurse Ratched. 

Things don’t start well in this production, as the first act is larded with so many long pauses, lingering beats and languorous low-volume line readings (other than McMurphy) that one begins to feel drugged. 

But the second act snaps into shape nicely under the direction of Patrick Ciamacco. As McMurphy, Daniel McElhaney opts for a lot of grinning and yelling early on. But he finds more variety as the show progresses, ultimately shaping a character to care about. Underplaying her role well (at times almost too well), Anne McEvoy gradually compiles a fearsome presence as Ratched. 

Among the strong supporting actors, Perren Hedderson is exquisitely frail and damaged as the stuttering Billy Bibbit and Aaron Patterson is solid as Chief Bromden (even if the staging of his pre-recorded interior monologues feels clumsy). Plus, Michael N. Herzog as Martini crafts a mostly silent portrait of hallucination that is at once amusing and deeply touching.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Through August 2 at the Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studio, W. 78th Street, 440-941-0458

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