Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Theatre Jacksonville's 'Cuckoo's Nest' Is Wonderful

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Theatre Jacksonville's 'Cuckoo's Nest' Is Wonderful

Article excerpt

Maybe because I once read it under more or less the same circumstances that Ken Kesey wrote it -- while working as an attendant on a psychiatric ward -- I've always been a huge fan of the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Unlike most of America, I didn't love the 1975 movie version, which seemed too literal, too much a social tract about mental health care gone bad, rather than the allegorical tale of the struggle between the forces of conformity and the spirit of rugged individualism as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic Indian.

Jack Nicholson deserved his Oscar. But the movie missed the spirit of the novel, partly because Louise Fletcher, who also won an Oscar, was way too reasonable and human as Nurse Ratched; and partly because it left out the cockeyed narrative voice of Bromden, the giant Indian who is convinced an all-powerful "Combine" has made him small and helpless.

The stage version of Cuckoo's Nest, which opened on Broadway in 1963 with Kirk Douglas as Randle Patrick McMurphy and is expected to return to Broadway this spring with the splendid Gary Sinise as McMurphy, turns out to be much closer to the spirit of the book than the movie.

Given a splendid production by Theatre Jacksonville, it is a rousing triumph that should delight both people who love Kesey's great novel and people who love good theater.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say here that the cast includes two people who are friends and co-workers: Kenneth Walker has a major role, as Bromden, known to his fellow inmates in the state mental hospital as Chief Broom; Soyia Ellison has a relatively small role, as Ratched's mousey assistant, Nurse Flinn.

Both are fine in their roles, but then one of the joys of this production is its cast. Everybody is good, and several of the performances are exceptional, including Mark E. Lambert as McMurphy, Beth Robertson Lambert as Nurse Ratched, Robert Pelaia as the easily emasculated Dale Harding and Warren Skeels as the stuttering Mama's boy Billy Bibbit.

At the heart of Cuckoo's Nest is the life-and-death struggle between McMurphy and Ratched. …

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