Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Cuckoo's Nest' Is Still Worth a Visit

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Cuckoo's Nest' Is Still Worth a Visit

Article excerpt

Maybe you think "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is just a countercultural relic of the '60s and '70s, but if so, you might get over to the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side to see the very persuasive staging by barebones productions.

In fact, if barebones keeps doing shows with the heft of this (and of last year's "Streetcar Named Desire"), it may have to give up its pose of just-us-folks and buy a couple of capital letters for its name.

For those of us of a certain age, "Cuckoo's Nest" stirs up powerful memories. Starting out as a 1962 novel by counterculture guru Ken Kesey, it had an impact on stage (adapted by Dale Wasserman) and then on screen, sweeping the major Oscars in 1975, including Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy. On stage in Pittsburgh, it was the galvanizing second show in the 1975 inaugural season of the Public Theater.

Driven by the vivid McMurphy of Tom Atkins, it was the Public's first hit, and in this same Hazlett Theater, to boot. Going up against that, it wouldn't have been surprising for this new "Cuckoo's Nest" to disappoint, but it doesn't: it reminds me what a walloping, persuasive play this is, wearing its heart boldly on its sleeve.

To summarize, it's set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, in a ward that mixes acutes (i.e. curables, most self-admitted) and chronics (worse off, probably in for life). They're ruled over by Nurse Ratched, insidiously controlling by keeping their emotional scabs raw. Enter McMurphy, loud, aggressive or worse, insidious in his own way, and the conflict is joined, with the other inmates as the field of battle.

It's darkly funny, moves very briskly (two acts, well under two hours including intermission), and ends in a mix of tragedy and contrasting uplift.

Although McMurphy and Big Nurse are the central combatants - with Chief Bromden, a half-Indian (last of an extinct tribe, no less) who apparently cannot hear or speak, delivering initially dreamlike narration - it's also an ensemble play. …

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