MANSFIELD - Set in a mental hospital in Oregon, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" opens the Mansfield Music & Arts Society's theater season in stirring fashion and is the first show to grace the company's brand new marquee.
With renewed interest in mental health since the recent suicide of Robin Williams, this production is also a timely one.
As Director Kelly Warriner says in her director's note, "Mental illness is close to all of us, whether it's a personal struggle or a struggle you watch a friend or family member endure." She brings this empathy to her direction, and there seems to be a bond between the characters and the actors portraying them, which allows the audience to appreciate more the tragedy and even some of the humor in the play.
Based on Ken Kesey's 1962 novel and adapted for the stage in 1963 by Dale Wasserman, "Cuckoo's Nest" is narrated by Chief Bromden, a catatonic who is half Native American and thought to be deaf and dumb by the others at the hospital. In this role, Attleboro resident Ted Koban is stoic, and his stature makes him perfect for it. His character is berated and belittled by the staff, and Koban reflects a very raw emotion of fear through his eyes and facial expressions.
The other patients on the ward include Charles Atkins Cheswick III, Frank Scanlon, Dale Harding, Anthony Martini, Billy Bibbitt and Ruckly. Each of them have their struggles.
Scanlon (played by Jay Silvi) likes explosions, Harding (Craig O'Connor) is president of the patient council and a college graduate but is intimidated by women, Bibbitt (Petr Favaza) is an immature 30-year old with a stuttering problem, Martini (Adam Law) hallucinates and Ruckly (Ken Butler) is a chronic patient who shuffles in and out of the ward. Each actor conveys his character's quirks and emotions in a way that is believable and very real.
Irina Gott plays the stern, controlling Nurse Ratched in a calm and quiet way, though sometimes too quiet to be able to hear her. With a smirk, Gott is able to convey a woman who takes pleasure in demeaning others.
When McMurphy, a self-professed gambler with a history of hostility, is admitted to the ward, the real conflict begins. A rebellious free-spirit who likes to break the rules, McMurphy sends the ward in a whirlwind as he battles with Ratched and wins over the patients as well as Dr. Spivey (Greg Smith). Kevin Mischley's portrayal of McMurphy is spot on with its wit and manic styling, and he at times seems to channel Jack Nicholson, who famously played McMurphy in the 1975 film..
In Act II, McMurphy throws a party and tries to help Billy with his fear of women by inviting prostitutes Candy and Sandra onto the ward. There are some light-hearted moments until scene reaches a tumultuous conclusion.
Laura Gustafson and Atia DeRosa turn in some nice performances here, and DeRosa makes an interesting transformation having played timid Nurse Flynn in the first act. Favaza also is outstanding in this scene as his character seems to lose the stuttering only to have it return as Ratched berates and shames him into turning on McMurphy. Gott is almost devilish as she continues to badger poor Billy.
The performances are captivating; and even if you have seen this play before, this production will seem new.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" continues through Sept. 28 at the MMAS Black Box Theatre, 377 North Main St., Mansfield. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. This week, the Thursday to Saturday shows are sold out but tickets remain for the Sunday one. For tickets call 508-339-2822 or visit mmas.org.