Though it’s overshadowed by the iconic film adaptation, Dale Wasserman’s theatrical adaptation of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is just as powerful, and more true to the book. Ten Bucks Theatre, under director Julie Lisnet at the Eddington-Clifton Civic Center, did a bang-up job of bringing the story of a group of patients in a mental asylum, their cruel nurse, and the wild man who turns their lives upside down.
That wild man is Randall McMurphy, who checks himself in to avoid jail time, and he’s played with irreverent gusto by Allen Adams. Adams feels totally right in this role. His natural comic timing and loose-limbed way of moving makes McMurphy feel very real; an incorrigible button pusher who’s not above a little deceit to get his way, but at heart, a good person. Adams injects just enough swagger into the character to make him feel a little dangerous, but shows his vulnerable side when he begins to crack up over how manipulated his fellow patients are.
They’re manipulated by Nurse Ratched, of course, the sociopath played with cold, clinical precision by Katie Toole. Toole’s placid smile and measured way of speaking conceal a cruel, ruthless core; she does an excellent job of maintaining Ratched’s external composure, even as she calls for unspeakable injustices to be done to all her patients. Toole is a very good actress and deserves the chance to take on meaty, demanding roles such as this one.
It’s a large cast, and in particular, Ten Bucks newcomer Randy Hunt as Chief Bromden is excellent. He spends the first half of the play silent and morose and maintains an expression of resignation and sadness that’s so effective it’s easy to continually look at what he’s doing, even as lunacy rises up around him. Adam Cousins is also effective as Billy Bibbit; his breakdown near the end is perhaps the most emotionally challenging part of the play.
The show is set partially on the Eddington-Clifton Civic Center’s tiny stage, and mostly on the floor — a wise decision on the part of director Julie Lisnet, as it not only frees up lots of room for a show that’s highly physical, but it also draws the audience much closer to the action. Lighting and sound cues were also spot on; Sue Dunham Shane and Mark Shane played to the strengths of the room, and using the actual lights in the building in much of the show was an inspired move. Everyone in the audience, in a way, checks into the looney bin.