Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins
It was a crisp fall evening as Fenton Village Players kicked off their 2019/2020 season with the light-hearted romp – oops wrong notes – with a serio-comedic dramatic staple – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Written by Ken Kesey and adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman – Cuckoo has been a bestselling novel, a Broadway production with several revivals, a highly rated movie and now a local theater production directed by William Kercher.
Let’s get started. The show is set in a day room of a mental institution colored with industrial greens and grays, several exits and an impressive security box center stage complete with a working mic and blinking lights. The smallish stage was used quite effectively and even with a large cast never seemed crowded.
As the program states the show tells the tale of McMurphy, a charming rogue hoping to get out of a short prison sentence at a work farm and into an airy mental institution instead. Drama and light comedy ensue as Mac upsets the mundane daily schedule of this establishment.
Mac is played with tremendous energy and fervor by Jeff Rogner. He befriends the guys in his ward, clashes with Nurse Ratched, and even helps the Chief overcome his moribund condition. Jeff sets the tone, brings energy and excitement and spars with the establishment in a convincing nature. Well done.
His foil in this nuthouse was head nurse Ratched, a quietly tough professional who rules with an iron tongue and a withering stare. Played by stage vet Mary Smith Powers – Ratched is convincing, feared, tested and eventually and eternally in control. Powers handles the role well though is a bit quiet at times.
One of the guys, Dale Harding, played well by Matt Osterberg, knows the program and everything that goes on. As the self-proclaimed patient advocate, Osterberg is loud, unsure, timid and bold at times while struggling with a failed marriage and possible homosexuality.
Another fellow, Billy Babbit, portrayed by Grant Kenny, is a cutter and a stutterer who has problems dealing with women. Kenny plays the part well.
Charles Cheswick – a quiet protester is played well by Gary Smith.
Frank Scanlon – constantly fiddles with “bomb making supplies” in the day room. Frank is played with confidence by Gary Smith.
Ron Barrett plays Martini – a schizophrenic who “sees” his wife though she isn’t there.
The mark of a strong production and a strong cast shows everyone fully invested in their characters. This show exemplifies that as everyone is onstage nearly all the time. The guys squirm, twist, scratch, twitch, slap, mumble – constantly befitting their character choices – as they hang in the background. There is an endless card game going plus activities and crafts that keep the guys busy and enhance the show. Very well done.
Of course there are two other patients: First, Ruckly, played well by Kevin Emmons, is a nearly quiet inmate that “nails” himself to the wall and only bellows one sentence. Emmons totally immerses himself in the role and never breaks character even as tremendous effort was expelled keeping his arms constantly spread.
Finally, we have the Chief, a tall, domineering red man (quite literally) who is comatose, deaf and mute. Nick Carter brings this iconic character to life, matching eventually the fervor and energy of Mac. The biggest change in the guys comes from the Chief. We learn his tragic story and the play is viewed from his perspective. The climax is stunning, explosive and sad. Well done, Nick.
Additional characters include Williams, an orderly played by Preston Sannicolas, Warren, another orderly played by Bill Jones, Nurse Finn played by Rebecca Norris, and Turkle, an aide played by Geno Essenmacher. These cast members were capable, and added to the background believability of the institution. The staff doctor, Doc Spivey, was portrayed by Larry Stecco. Not sure if it was a character choice or a directorial choice but Larry’s laconic portrayal was a bit too laid back. I understand the character was old, irrelevant and ready to retire, but he was often hard to hear with low energy.
Finally, the last two characters were prostitutes brought in by Mac to party. Played by Laura Strong and Heather Ade the girls brought life, light, energy and booze to the gathering. There was also a non-credited walk on by tech director Dave Collins. I see you, Dave.
As usual Kercher pulled together a strong cast (kudos here as several shows of late in the local theatre community were scrubbed due to the lack of male actors), a talented crew and produced a theatrical gem.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest continues this weekend and next at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton. For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at http://fentontheatre.org/tickets/.
CAUTION – Torrey road is closed and detoured at Torrey and N. Lake. You must approach from the north or Long Lake road.