Blank Canvas Theatre serves some psychotic realness during the current offering of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is based on the novel of the same name written in 1962 by Ken Kesey. Set in a psychiatric hospital, the book serves as a study of the institutional process and the human mind. It also explores the interaction of those less fortunate, and the inner demons that control us, and the outer demons that can harbor ill will against us. The novel was adapted into a Broadway play by Dale Wasserman in 1963. Bo Goldman adapted the novel for the 1975 film directed by Miloš Forman, which won five Academy Awards. Most people will remember the film that starred Jack Nicholson, but seeing the story live, makes for a fascinating evening of theatre.
The stage adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel, captures the radical and anti-establishment mood of the 1960s. Tyrannical Nurse Ratched (Anne McEvoy) rules her psychiatric ward with an iron fist and a penchant for electro shock therapy. Into her ordered domain, enters the boisterous Randle P. McMurphy (Daniel McElhaney), intent on disruption and showing the other patients a good time. A titanic battle of wills emerges. The conflict explores the boundaries between conformity and individuality, sanity and madness, all culminating with a devastating effect.
Director, Set and Sound Designer, and Technical Director Pat Ciamacco has created a fascinating playground for the mental ward to flourish. The theatre space has been cleverly transformed into an antiseptic psych ward, complete with a second level of windows that house the nurses on view. Into the space enters a fine crew of actors, each with their quirk and method on how to survive the Nurse from hell.
The superlative showdown is between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, where in McEvoy and McElhaney face off quite effectively in this piece. McEvoy gives a tempered performance that just bristles with a surface level cruelty, that makes you just want to smack her upside the head. With complete control, McEvoy efficiently and effectively, portrays the mind control of the patients and staff with emotionally brutalizing glee. McElhaney enters the space like he just jumped on the highest level on a mechanical bull. He gives us a highly frenetic character with endless energy and focus, showing cracks in his armor as his gambling pervades. It did seem overall there was one level, which eliminated exploring the moments where subtle strength could be applied. But, both actors come at each other from ends of the spectrum, and the result is devastating and entertaining.
Aaron Patterson delivered the goods in Chief Bromden. His physicality was well chosen, and certainly created a sense of “there is something more to this guy.” It was a controlled, nuanced performance. John J. Polk was entertaining as hell as the intellectual and sexually repressed Dale Harding. His comic delivery was spot on, but also, he delivered a heartbreaking breakdown. But the highlight was the performance given by Perren Hedderson, as Billy Bibbit. Quietly without fanfare, a beautiful character was developed and executed. Playing the role with such truth, and not overdoing the mental restraints that torture his character. Watching the transformation from boy to man, and then back, was truly blissful acting. The rest of the boys were terrific, each with their quirks and fitting perfectly into the puzzle. I was amazed how Michael N. Herzog, as Martini, sustained his neurosis. With seemingly endless movement and hallucinations, his character was heartbreaking and amusing, a compelling presentation.
Ken Allan as Dr. Spivey was awesome. Giving us clarity and levelheadedness, as best he could. Monica Zach was a delightful tart and sexual conquest, giving just the right amount of fluff.
One general note is that as the fans keep the audience cooler and more comfortable, which they are, at times it would have helped if the actors were louder on stage. I am sure this is a battle that comes from having a theatre space packed with audiences. Packed being the operative word.
The show is very good, the pace is great, and the ending is so bizarrely hypocritical that it unnerved me to no end. That is a good production.
Stage Manager Brittany Gaul called a great show. Costume Designer Luke Scattergood knew he whites well. Lighting Designer Cory Molner was dead on.
$15 General Admission
78th Street Studios
1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102