Raleigh staging of 'Cuckoo's Nest' makes case for plight of mentally ill

CorrespondentSeptember 11, 2013 

Clark Aflague as Chief Bromden in Justice Theater Project’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

COURTESY OF COTY COCKRELL

  • Details

    What: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” presented by the Justice Theater Project

    When: 8 p.m. Sept. 13-14, 20-21; 2 p.m. Sept. 15 and 22

    Where: Clare Hall, St. Francis of Assisi Church, 11401 Leesville Road, Raleigh

    Cost: $12-$20

    Info: 919-264-7089 or thejusticetheaterproject.org

The theme for the Justice Theater Project’s 10th season is American health care. The first production, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” looks at conditions in a mental institution circa 1963, the date of its Broadway debut. Although treatments have changed greatly since then, the possibilities for intimidation and abuse remain. The production makes a gripping case for the plight of the mentally ill and their need for quality care.

Those familiar with the popular 1975 film will notice some differences in the storyline, but all the main characters and dramatic events are the same. The setting is still a state mental hospital ruled by the iron-willed Nurse Ratched. Into her tightly controlled realm of submissive patients comes R.P. McMurphy, an inmate from a work farm who has feigned mental illness to be sent to a more comfortable incarceration.

McMurphy’s cocky confidence and boisterous nonconformity soon put him head-to-head with Ratched. Despite warnings from the other patients, McMurphy is determined to break Ratched’s domination. The battle of wills leads to near-victory for McMurphy, until Ratched employs her ultimate weapon, a brutal “treatment” that all the patients fear.

Mike Raab invests McMurphy with bravado and a sense of justice, his portrayal a dynamo of raucous humor and outrageous behavior. Renée Wimberley rightly hides Ratched’s cold resolve under a caring calm at first, unleashing her true nature when sorely provoked. The pair’s clashes keep the tension vibrating.

Among the other patients, Clark Aflague plays Native-American Chief Bromden with moving vulnerability, his quiet, defeated delivery of Bromden’s lines often heartbreaking. Victor Rivera makes the frenetic Martini’s hallucinations all too real, while Dexter Morgan gives a chilling portrait of the lobotomized Ruckly. Others of note in the 14-member cast include Sidney Edwards as flamboyant prostitute Candy Starr, Joey Narvaez as shy, stuttering Billy and Jack Prather as weary, persnickety Harding.

Director Jeremy Fiebig fuels the show with lots of physical activity and heightened comedy, although Saturday’s performance had several slowdowns among actors not picking up their cues. Having the audience on three sides causes some awkward blocking, especially Chief Bromden’s restricted staging in a partially obstructed corner during his monologues.

Still, Dale Wasserman’s strong script and the production’s talented leads make the show easily recommendable.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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