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March 22, 2011 > Theatre Review: Get mental at Broadway West

Theatre Review: Get mental at Broadway West

By Julie Grabowski

Pajamas, pills, lobotomies, and shock treatments - welcome to the cuckoo's nest. In their very first revival show, Broadway West puts us in the hopeless confines of a psychiatric ward in the Tony Award-winning "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Adapted by Dale Wasserman from the novel by Ken Kesey, a group of mentally and emotionally unstable men spend their days under the unfeeling and unflinching hand of Nurse Ratched. Although those in command say they are a democratic ward governed by the patients and that the hospital's policies are engineered for their cure, the goal seems to be more about keeping everyone in their place, by whatever means necessary.

The arrival of defiant and charismatic Randal P. McMurphy shakes things up as he incites the residents to rebel against institutional rules and restraint, and to reclaim their shriveled lives. For Nurse Ratched, who believes parental leniency is to blame for these men's current situation, discipline and control is god. As McMurphy's presence is a consistent threat, it can't be anything but war.

"You gotta laugh, especially when things ain't funny," McMurphy says in a decidedly unfunny situation, citing it as the key to staying in balance. Director John Rutski does a wonderful job of providing just this balance, for despite the story's gravity and bleakness, there are plenty of occasions for laughs, such as the basketball game with Ruckley serving as the hoop, and a party scene where the evening's cocktails are distributed from an IV bag. Amusing looks and mannerisms by the actors also help to level the heavy terrain.

Chuck Phelps is magnetic and commanding as Randal P. McMurphy, flawless and fabulous throughout. It is impossible to keep your eyes off him. Larry Voellger plays a close second with his excellent Dale Harding, president of the patients' council and the closest to normal. Voellger is full of spirit and appeal, a pleasure to watch. Anthony Frederick Aranda delivers a quiet power as Chief Bromden, and Johanna Hembry is perfectly unlikable as the cold and controlling Nurse Ratched, easily holding her own among her strong male counterparts. The rest of the patient cast is wonderfully unique and compelling; all combining to form a cohesive and believable whole.

Set design, sound and lighting effects are a complimentary trifecta; the checkerboard floors and blue-gray walls with exposed pipes and gears, flickering lights, shadow of a big spinning gear when we are in Chief Bromden's mind, and groaning pipes add texture and richness to the action.

From its disturbing opening scene to last emotional breath, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a solid and moving experience, sure to put a little tweak in your own brain.

General admission is $23; $18 for seniors, students and TBA members; with Thursday, March 24, April 7 and 14 performances $15 for all. A special bargain Thursday will be held March 31 when all tickets will be $10. Opening night and Sunday performances are $23 for everyone. Sunday matinees on March 27 and April 3 begin with a continental brunch at 12:15 p.m.; the April 10 show will offer theme-based refreshments during intermission. Refreshments are included in ticket price. Please note that this performance contains adult language and references.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
March 18 - April 16
8 p.m., Thursday - Saturday
1 p.m., Sundays
Broadway West Theatre Company
4000-B Bay Street, Fremont
(510) 683-9218
Tickets: $10 - $23

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