The theme for the Justice Theater Projects 10th season is American health care. The first production, One Flew Over the Cuckoos 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.
McMurphys cocky confidence and boisterous nonconformity soon put him head-to-head with Ratched. Despite warnings from the other patients, McMurphy is determined to break Ratcheds 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 Ratcheds cold resolve under a caring calm at first, unleashing her true nature when sorely provoked. The pairs clashes keep the tension vibrating.
Among the other patients, Clark Aflague plays Native-American Chief Bromden with moving vulnerability, his quiet, defeated delivery of Bromdens lines often heartbreaking. Victor Rivera makes the frenetic Martinis 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 Saturdays performance had several slowdowns among actors not picking up their cues. Having the audience on three sides causes some awkward blocking, especially Chief Bromdens restricted staging in a partially obstructed corner during his monologues.
Still, Dale Wassermans strong script and the productions talented leads make the show easily recommendable.