The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures

Going Cuckoo

Portland Players searches for liberation
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  April 2, 2008
OUTSIDE THE ASYLUM: Bringing light to the starkness.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman, adapted from the novel by Ken Kesey | Directed by Barbara Buck | Produced by The Portland Players, in South Portland | through April 6 | 207.799.7337
Through the asylum’s gothic windows, high and barred, shift impossibly vivid blues, yellows, and scarlets. That’s Outside — intense, mysterious, unpredictable, ever in flux. The rich but frightening beauty out there contrasts with the sterile, institutional off-white-and-aqua interior of the asylum, and with the regulated, passive men who live within it. But a new patient manages to smuggle in some of that sensuality and color, in Ken Kesey’s classic paean to liberation and non-conformity, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Barbara Buck for the Portland Players.

Before Randle McMurphy (Jaimie Schwartz) shows up in the ward (hoping to serve a jail sentence here, rather than at the work farm), its patients are resigned to their lives of stable, deadening subservience. The “Big Nurse,” Nurse Ratched (Cheryl Reynolds) keeps everybody submissive with a diet of fear, guilt, emasculation, and mechanized routine, and even her two beefy aides (Joe Swenson and Dan Clarke) live in terror of her. But as live-wire McMurphy works his electricity into ward life — with porno playing cards, secret gambling, and general rebellion against ward policy — Ratched starts to lose control over her carefully balanced empire.

As her nemesis, Schwartz certainly pulls out the stops. His robust, randy McMurphy is positively charged with swagger, sex, and a maniacal joie de vivre. It’s an energetic and energizing performance, if not entirely fresh — he often seems to be channeling Jack Nicholson, who gave the definitive performance of the role in Milos Forman’s 1975 film.

Schwartz in any case draws a striking and rousing contrast against the flaccid bunch of “acutes” (cogent, curable) and “chronics” (walkers, vegetables) McMurphy joins. The acutes include the leader of the inmates, Harding (John Alexander), smart but insecure, and intimidated by his beautiful young wife back home; the loveable, apron-tied young stutterer Billy Bibbit (an affecting turn by Marc Brann); “bomb”-builder Scanlon (Steve Dodge, with a hostility that he tempers nicely); Harpo Marx-ish Martini (Mike Best); and the dramatic neurotic Cheswick (Paul Bell). These actors have great rapport, and beautifully convey the intimacy — both the irritation and the affection — between the wardmates. They also do a fine job revealing the evolution of the ward, from apathy to agency, as McMurphy’s presence rubs off.

Another inmate, the half-Indian Chief Bromden (Chris Newcomb), has long been presumed to be deaf and dumb, capable only of pushing around a broom. But he has a rich, intuitive inner life, expressed through monologues apart from the group scenes, in which he critiques the modern culture of conformity of which their lives are a symptom. These monologues are an important counterpoint to the narrative, but director Buck mishandles them here. While Newcomb makes wise, tender work of the Chief’s arc in general, his monologues are rushed and insufficiently different in tone from the play’s main action. The Chief’s inner thoughts are lyrical, evoking nature on the one hand, and cogs and mechanical imagery on the other. Buck needs to slow this poetry down and give it its full measure, or else much of it — and thus vital elements of the play’s themes — sweeps by too quickly.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Holding the phone, Cooking the books, Looking for love, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, Prisons, Milos Forman,  More more >
| More

Share this entry with Delicious
  •   HOW TO DRESS A WOUND  |  October 24, 2014
    Kayleen and Doug first meet when they’re both eight years old and in the school nurse’s office: She has a stomachache, and he has “broken his face” whilst riding his bike off the school roof. Their bond, though awkward and cantankerous, is thus immediately grounded in the grisly intimacy of trauma.
  •   TRAUMATIC IRONY  |  October 15, 2014
    A creaky old oceanfront Victorian. Three adult siblings who don’t like each other, plus a couple of spouses. A codicil to their father’s will that requires them to spend an excruciating week together in the house. And, of course, various ghosts.
  •   OVEREXTENDED FAMILY  |  October 11, 2014
    “I’m inclined to notice the ruins in things,” ponders Alfieri (Brent Askari). He’s recalling the downfall of a longshoreman who won’t give up a misplaced, misshapen love, a story that receives a superbly harrowing production at Mad Horse, under the direction of Christopher Price.   
  •   SOMETHING'S GOTTA FALL  |  October 11, 2014
    While it hasn’t rained on the Curry family’s 1920’s-era ranch in far too long, the drought is more than literal in The Rainmaker .
  •   SURPASSED MENAGERIE  |  October 03, 2014
    Do Buggeln and Vasta make a Glass Menagerie out of Brighton Beach Memoirs? Well, not exactly.

 See all articles by: MEGAN GRUMBLING

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2017 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group