by Terrance Mc Arthur
Loony bin. Nut house. Cuckoo factory. Insane asylum. Bedlam. Psychiatric unit.
You wouldn’t want to go there, would you?
Wellll…there’s a new place that just opened on Olive Avenue in Fresno’s Tower District, and I strongly recommend that you visit it…for a while.
Good Company’s 2nd Space Theatre is presenting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dale (Man of La Mancha) Wasserman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel, Thursdays through Sundays until August 18, and your visit will be shocking, horrifying, distressing, funny, and memorable.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the Oscar-winning 1975 movie with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, it takes place in a ward of a mental hospital in the Pacific Northwest, where Randle P. McMurphy (Joel M. Young) has gotten himself transferred from a prison farm, hoping to do easier time. His free-wheeling ways clash with the autocratic rules of Nurse Ratched (Valerie Munoz). Their battles drag the other inmates into the fighting, from the virginal stutterer and cutter Billy (Gabriel Griffith) to the massive Chief Bromden (Carlos Casillas) who hides his own strength behind a wall of silence.
Young cuts a dashing figure as the gambling, womanizing, rebellious McMurphy, certain that he is on top of every situation, not understanding the risks he is taking. This is not an imitation of Jack Nicholson’s I-don’t-care attitude; there is more self-aware acid to it, along the lines of Michael Keaton.
Casillas manages to be big and imposing, yet soft and cuddly at the same time. The paranoid depression of the half Indian who watched his father cut down by white-man maneuverings and his white mother are symbolized by garish lighting in his solo sequences. His slow emergence from his deaf-and-dumb pose is tender and endearing.
Director/set designer Patrick Allan Tromborg knows this play well (He has played McMurphy twice) and his confidence shows in a production that is not safe and comforting. There is a real menace and danger, and its name is Ratched.
Munoz reminisced gently in 2nd Space’s To Kill a Mockingbird as the grown-up version of Scout, the little girl. Here she is toughness and malevolence, a petty dictator who has chased out all the doctors except the weak and malleable Dr. Spivey (Michael Wirtz). She rules the ward with a fist of iron, smashing egos and thwarting recovery at will. Her malignant heart is belied by her lush beauty. The woman is scary.
GCP veteran Gordon Moore is, as usual, at the top of his game as the erudite and ineffectual Harding, the “bull-goose loony,” leader of the inmates until McMurphy arrives, sardonic and rueful with a touch of fatalistic. GCP newcomer Griffith (more than half of the cast are making their Good Company on-stage debuts) is a frightened mouse of a man, bullied and cowed, an endearingly tragic soul. Gus Short’s catatonic Ruckley serves as virtual scenery for the play, everything from sports equipment to religious statuary. Manraj Singh and Giovanni Navarro are casually evil as hospital aides who bully and taunt their charges. Clara Lynn is lovely and fluttery as an assistant nurse, but she has a moment when she is given authority, and the quest for Ratched-like power takes over in a scary rush. The brief appearances of Marikah Leal and Kelly Brennan as fun-time girls are sexy and funny.
The language is tame by modern standards, but this is not fare for children. It is a parable of good and evil, but the good doesn’t always recognize its own power, settling for safety and the security of rules, which is why the growth of Casillas’ character is so important to the story.
It’s a rough ride (I was shaking by the three-minute mark, due to personal memories of pain and bullies), harrowing and cathartic, where pride goeth before the fall. Visit. Look. Watch Learn.
Showtimes are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday matinee at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $16 for general admission, and $15 for students and seniors. The box office is located in the lobby of Rocka’s Dinner Theatre, 1226 N. Wishon, at Olive and Wishon in The Tower District. Call 266-0660 or 1-800-371-4747, Tuesday through Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m., or try their website. You can also keep up with their shows right here on their KRL event page.