Monday, March 7, 2011

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

On Sunday afternoon, Mike and I saw Portland Center Stage's stunning production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." My first reaction when we walked into the theater was the amazing set. Willamette Week's Ben Waterhouse had this to say about it:
"Under other circumstances, it would be the gravest of insults to say an actor was upstaged by the scenery, but in Rose Riordan’s new production of Kesey’s classic novel, it could hardly be otherwise. Here the asylum is not merely the setting but the lead antagonist: a breathing, blinking being dedicated to extinguishing the humanity of its inhabitants, with Nurse Ratched as its agent. It’s a hell of a set piece, designed by Tony Cisek and lit in a breathtaking realist style by Diane Ferry Williams, all green tile and fluorescent tubes and heavy steel doors, and it transcends verisimilitude. It glowers."
In short, I think it was one of the most realistic sets I've ever seen in a play. The hallway seemed interminable (given it was part of a stage), and they had constructed several doorways down the hall. As you can see in the photo below, Nurse Ratched had a control room from which she could peer over the patients.

Chief Bromden and Nurse Ratched
It has been years since I've seen the movie, and Mike had never seen it (or read the book), so we were not constantly comparing the plot. The story represents a battle between chaos and enjoyment of life versus order and authority...set in a sad, 1960s-era psychiatric ward (the Oregon State Hospital). We found fascinating parallels to a situation we are facing in our own life at the moment, with Kieran being represented by the wild and crazy, lover-of-life Randle P. McMurphy. And yes, we have our own Nurse Ratched, lover of rules, order, and mindless obedience.

As always, the casting and acting were excellent. Gretchen Corbett plays Nurse Ratched with a firm upper hand...I remember Louise Fletcher as being a bit more sinister, but Corbett's power accelerates throughout the play. PJ Sosko, who also played a lead role in PCS's "Sometimes a Great Notion," is great as Randle McMurphy. The most amazing part about his acting was that he had injured his leg in the previous evening's performance and performed his role in a full leg cast and crutches! (We don't have anything to compare it to, but we thought the crutches actually complemented his character well.) The resiliency of outstanding actors never ceases to amaze reminds me of the time we saw "Grey Gardens" at PCS and the woman slated to play Big Edie fell suddenly ill. They had to have the talented Sharonlee McLean step into the part with little notice. She compensated by sitting for most of her part in the play, with the script in her lap. At any rate, I liked PJ Sosko's portrayal of McMurphy--Jack Nicholson had big shoes to fill, and Sosko made it his own.

The man who plays Chief Bromden, Tim Sampson, is the son of the actor Will Sampson, who played Chief in the movie. As Chief Bromden is continually talking to his papa, this familial connection to the character pleased me. His quiet understatedness and strength were the highlight of the play for me.

Here are artistic director Chris Coleman and director Rose Riordan discussing the production:

And the cast actually visited the Oregon State Hospital to prepare for the play (my company is supervising construction of the new facilities at the hospital):

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" runs through March 27. I recommend you get tickets and check out this sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, emotionally powerful play.


  1. Just from that one set photo the set looks dead-on. I've read the book and seen the movie, but never a live production of it. Can't quite imagine acting in a leg cast!

  2. I wish I could have found a photo of the full set--but I couldn't. It was amazing!