Friday, July 13, 2007

"Thoughtful, Affecting 'Cuckoo's Nest' at BTF

Eric Hill and I met nearly two decades ago and I've always known him to be sharply contemplative - an intellectual artist/dramatist in the most positive mode. Those qualities mark his production of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," the play by Dale Wasserman based upon Ken Kesey's still-stunning novel, which continues at Berkshire Theater Festival through July 28.

Many a director has discovered, through trial and error, that selection of the "right" cast members eliminates many rehearsal headaches. Sounds formulaic but tough to execute.
Hill's choices for roles within "Cuckoo's Nets" are excellent. The fits are precise. The patients (inmates?), whether petrified, emasculated, or gonzo provide sparks and laughter.

The novel, book, and Oscar winning movie version of "Cuckoo's Nest" centers upon a lively array of individuals ensconced in a state mental hospital. It's Fall 1960 and we are in the Pacific Northwest.

The provocative, playful, audacious, clever Randle P. McMurphy (Jonathan Epstein) meets and greets his comrades within the institution. He will later discover that stuttering Billy Bibbit (Randy Harrison), cerebral Dale Harding (Tommy Schrider) and others are self-admits. McMurphy is stunned. McMurphy discovers that Chief Bromden (Austin Durant) is neither deaf nor dumb; but a silent, sagacious, bitter observer.

The plot of the play differs from that of the film since the Chief actively narrates from time to time. One of the more galvanic scenes of the production occurs during the second act as McMurphy and Bromden interface, exchange, forge a friendship.

Many theatergoers will certainly enter with the image of Jack Nicholson (starring as the film's McMurphy) in mind. A few might recall that Gary Sinise took on the stage role half a dozen years ago. Not many realize that Kirk Douglas was the original McMurphy in the 1963 Broadway opening.

Jonathan Epstein, whose presence and command marked many a performance at Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company forever (it seems), presents an extroverted, physical, communicative, dramatic McMurphy this time around in Stockbridge. I keep in mind his turns as Shylock, Lear, Iago, King Richard, and others. That said, he is the fulcrum for the current "Cuckoo's Nest." Epstein's splendid work, his ability to become someone else, demonstrate reams of talent and dexterity.

The stereotype for Nurse Ratched's character suggests that she draw blood, rule with a harder than iron fist, threaten all. Linda Hamilton's portrayal, on the other hand, is quieter but just as insidious. If Epstein flies (wonderfully) over the top at times, she provides counterpoint with an understated, disciplined depiction of the hated tyrant.

The cast, including E. Gray Simons III as Cheswick and Robert Serrell as Martini, is energetic and sustaining.

Hill orchestrates the production. He supplies special touches. For example, during a Bromden commentary early on, all others on stage move carefully, deliberately from station to station.
Those familiar with Tadashi Suzuki training (Hill studied this for ten summers or so and teaches it) will note the slow-walk, its significance, and the skills required to execute the maneuver.

He benefits from Karl Eigsti's set which provides depth, feel, and atmosphere; and J Hagenbuckle delivers acute, piercing sounds and noises at key moments.

Hill is an actor, director, educator, and he heads the theater department at Brandeis. His StageWest productions provided many a seminal moment for Springfield-area theater lovers. That he is often directing and occasionally acting at BTF in the Berkshires is cause enough to snag tickets. Why am I not surprised that "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" is cutting and incisive - splendid theater?
(413) 298-5536


Post a Comment

<< Home