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"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a Great Flight

Elizabeth Hurd Published: October 12, 2013

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” presented by the Jewel Box Theatre is directed by the talented Ben Hall.  Hall imparts to the 16 member cast an understanding of the inner self, important in creating each character completely with faults foibles and varying degrees of sanity.  The action takes place in the ward of a State Mental Hospital somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  A petty criminal, Randle P. McMurphy has weaseled himself into the facility to avoid the labor in regular prison.  He is too crafty for his own good and while he is street wise he is not so wise in the ways of institutional bureaucracies.

McMurphy comes up against the inflexible Nurse Ratched and connects with the other residents, especially the soulful Chief Bromden.  The story is tragic, heartwarming and very amusing in places.  While many of us remember the movie from 40 years ago, much has improved in mental health facilities since.  However, the play is not dated in the least because inflexible bureaucratic power attitudes still prevail.  Ratched enjoys dictating the lives of anyone in her charge and anyone requiring cooperation from her authoritarian stance within the bureaucracy cannot surpass her barriers.

As a result, the perfect set of the 60’s era exactly reflects the intimidation and condescension that is rampant today.  Director, Ben Hall reveals sensitivity and intelligence in every nuance of
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ revealing the characters with genuine realism.  Anna Holloway is Assistant Director and Dramaturg and her impact is also apparent.  Their teamwork provides the cast with the solid foundation the show needs to be so effective.

The entire cast presents their best performance in timing, action and reaction.  Christopher Rodgers as Randle P. MucMurphy is almost chilling in the accuracy he reveals of a basically good-hearted scoundrel.  However, for sheer iciness Emily Etherton as Nurse Ratched is superbly cold, to downright freezing as she manipulates all the ‘boys’ on her ward through fear and intimidation.  Etherton has an arresting stare with a flicker of fire that lets one know Nurse Ratched enjoys her power.  She has a hard time putting McMurphy in his place, but the challenge is entertaining.  As sensitive and shocking as the performances of Etherton and Rodgers, the performance Ace Greenwood as Chief Bromden steals the show.  This is no upstaging, Ken Kesey intended exactly that, and playwright Dale Wasserman follows through.  Ace Greenwood is a consummate actor and with very few words makes the tragic story of Chief Bromden real and universal and then ultimately hopeful.

Equally distinctive performances are from Dale Harding as Barry Thurman and C. S. Bardsher as Billy Bibbit.  Chris Crane as Cheswick, Timothy Daggs as Martini, Douglas Brown as Ruckly and Thomas Ryan as Scanlon.  Bright spots of humor are provided by Christine Jolly as Candy Starr and Paul Smith as Aide Turkel.  Appearing as aides (hospital and floozie) are Craig Musser, Aldan Olds, Rodonna Carter and Mariah Webb.  Another breath of fresh air comes from David Russell as Dr. Spivey.

Over all the cast is superb, the technical aspects are excellent and Ben Hall has directed a show that will be remembered.  The program cover is a beautiful reminder of how much we will always miss artist Nick Backes.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” can be seen at the Jewel Box Theatre at 3700 N. Walker through October 27, 2013.  The Jewel Box is an annex of and sponsored by First Christian Church. For tickets call the box office at 405-521-1786 or visit


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