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Center Stage: One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

By Staff | Jan 26, 2012

You’d better fly down fast to the Laboratory Theater in order to catch a powerfully dramatic production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (playing Jan, 25-28th at 8 PM). The Laboratory Theater is in a new location at 1634 Woodford Ave. (corner of 2nd & Woodford), and it is really easy to find. The location may be new and far better than the space where the Laboratory Theater first performed (The Berne Building) but the quality of their productions is still first rate and this offering is no exception. Nykkie Rizley has assembled a wonderfully clever cast who manages to generate startlingly fine performances, leading to an evening of humor, tension, sorrow and sadness, in other words a night of good live theater which is both satisfying and fulfilling. Bravo one and all!

The show was first performed on Broadway in 1963 and featured Kirk Douglas in the lead role of Randle McMurphy, (Jack Nickleson played the film version). No matter how good the cast might be any performance of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” falls down if the actor playing Randle McMurphy isn’t up to the task. Fortunately superb actor/writer/ teacher/director Shawn Holiday is more than up to the task. Holiday is matchless as the con man who feigns madness in order to sign in to a spacious mental institution in order to escape a short sentence working on a prison work farm. He quickly realizes he made a mistake because he clashes with head nurse Ratched.

Dressed in a leather jacket, jeans and a knit cap, he’s a total contrast to the rest of the inmates who are all crazy in their own individual way.

McMurphy quickly takes over the ward and soon stages a revolt winning over the other inmates with his high energy and extraverted ways, he shakes up the system enough to get permission to watch the world series on TV, arrange for a rip roaring midnight party with two hookers and a lotta booze. This really pisses off the powers that be, especially the mean spirited, controlling head nurse; Nurse Ratched (commandingly played Joann Haley). For one offense, Nurse Ratched has him submit to shock treatment but for the party offense which incites him to attack her for her mistreatment of the other patients. Her solution for this final correction is a frontal lobotomy.

Throughout the play you see how McMurphy tries to help the inmates by giving them a more positive outlook on their lives, while Ratched constantly reminds them of their failings. Joann Haley makes her Nurse Ratched a person the audience loves to hate. Her nurse represents the stultifying, regimented behavior of the past while McMurphy’s free wheeling thinking and upbeat ideas shows us the possibilities of a better, richer, freer, brighter future.

Shawn Holiday couldn’t be better in this role making McMurphy an endearing but stern teacher to his fellow inmates and a taunting irritant to Miss Ratched. You really get his character and understand him especially when he tells the guys “You gotta laugh- especially when things aren’t funny”. Holiday’s performance gets nothing short of a four star rating.

Joann Haley as Nurse Ratched couldn’t be more on target; she plays a very credible, mature nurse, a matronly workaholic, a detached, steely control freak, whom we all dislike intensely because of her inhumane methods. Let me assure you Joann is nothing like this character in real life, which goes to prove what a fine actress she is. What can I say but boo-hiss and hurrah, all in the same breath.

Director Rizley has made sure that all the characters of all the patients are well and recognizably defined, totally different from one another. All the actors produce outstanding performances. Particularly impressive and giving a towering debut performance is Jeremy De Frehn as Chief Bromden. His monologues are reflective, heart wrenching and his compassion for McMurphy at the end of the play is unbeatable.

Another outstanding, Laboratory, debut performance, is Stephen E. Hooper. Hooper as Dale Harding the leader of the inmates captures the transition of his character from spineless jellyfish into a man who stands up for his fellow inmates by helping Chief escape at the end of the show and realizing McMurphy helped everyone by making the ultimate sacrifice.

Thomas Hutteman as Billy Bibbit successfully fulfilled his mission in his bio statement to explore his debut role to its fullest potential. His stammer and accompanying mannerisms were perfect.

Other fine acting performances were turned in by the following:

Michael McNally as inmate Scanlon, who is building a bomb to blow up the world; while K.C.Ruisi plays the loudmouth Cheswick who becomes more outrageous due to the influence of McMurphy. Adam Kazmarz is the determined inmate Martini who continually talks to an invisible friend and Ken Bryant is a hoot as the lobotomized patient Ruckley, who walks around the stage pointlessly stopping only to be imaginably, crucified or being used as a basketball hoop in an outrageous game of basketball. The comic bimbos in the show are Stella Ruiz (Candy Starr) the gal who gets Billy’s virginity, along with Alison May Hamilton (Sandra) is her fun loving, inebriated pal. Add to this fine ensemble cast two sadistic aides well played by Timothy J. Gunderman and Abrahan de la Rosa, Steve Chase as the weak willed Doctor Spivey and Dave Yudowitz as the drunken aide Turkle who helps the patients throw the party; and last but not least to round out this terrific cast we have Taylor Adair Nave as timid nurse Flynn.

This is one remarkable production and truly one not to be missed, so go now and get your tickets, or you’ll be MAD not to have seen it. Start by phoning the Box Office 218- 0481. Remind ’em when you phone Marsha sent you.

Before I close for the week I want to alert you to a spectacular dance performance you might have missed right here on our Island at Big Arts last Saturday and forewarn you of a dance performance you don’t want to miss on Friday Feb. 5th. If you missed the world class dancing of the Taylor 2 Company, you really neglected to see some of the very finest dancing happening in the world of modern dance. Taylor 2 was established, in 1993 by choreographic genius Paul Taylor in order to ensure that his works could be seen by audiences all over the world, unhindered by economic or technical limitations. Taylor selects the repertoire for Taylor 2 choosing dances that represent the athleticism, humor and range of emotions found in his works.

The six dancers presenting Taylor’s choreography were:

Justin Kahan, Cristina Lynch Markham, Madelyn Ho, Alana Allende, Hank Bamberger, Manuel Sanchez;

I’m writing their names so you can remember them as the best of the best, and you will be hearing of them again and again as these exquisite talents make their mark on the dance world. The works shown last Saturday were “Aureole” a beautiful pure dance piece to music by Handel, “Images” a ritual inspired modern dance ballet with music by Debussy, closing the evening with a passionate, sensual tango influenced dance motivated by a poem by Pablo Neruda, music by Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky.

The six dazzling dancers performed with brilliant technique, making difficult, demanding movements appear easy, they performed with not only skill but passion, drama and humor. There are not enough words of praise that I can shower on these extraordinary dancers except to say, “Thank you for sharing your God given talents with all of us”.

Now, that should move all you to attend the next big dance event at Big Arts, when “Thodos Dance Chicago” performs the “Fosse Trilogy” original works originally created by Bob Fosse, along with other contemporary works from their repertoire. Don’t wait, get your tickets soon or it just might be sold out. Be there or be outta luck.