Tuesday, April 7, 2015

reviews - ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST - Theater Works

Matt Zimmerer, Samantha Isely, Beau Heckman
and Cathy Dresbach
(Photo: Marcus Holder/ Theater Works)
for more information on this production, that runs through April 19th, click here

"While some of the situations in Dale Wasserman's 1963 play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest may be dated, the story of one man's struggle to rail against the status quo in a mental institute and the woman who gets in his way still resonates. Theater Works' production of this classic play has a capable cast, fine direction, and simple yet impressive creative aspects, including a set design that makes you feel like you are right in the middle of the institution with the patients. Matt Zimmerer perfectly portrays McMurphy's rebellious, yet fun loving nature. While there is little subtlety in McMurphy's rambunctious ways, we still see the care he has for a couple of the men he meets in the asylum, even though with his constant gambling schemes it seems he is using some of them to further his own personal gain. Zimmerer does a great job of portraying McMurphy's boisterous and obnoxious sides, though I wish that when his fellow inmates inform him that Ratched could keep him in the asylum forever that he showed a bit more confusion and fear. While Cathy Dresbach may not have the steely voice and tone other actresses I've seen as Nurse Ratched have had, her sweet, steady delivery has plenty of subtlety in how she uses it for manipulation. But don't let her sweet tone fool you, as once we know that Nurse Ratched is clearly in charge, her chilling smile and calm voice only elevates the performance into one of pure intimidation. The supporting cast do a fine job portraying the large group of patients, aides, and staff at the facility. Beau Heckman is quite good as the doctor McMurphy attempts to get on his side, and the interactions he has with Dresbach effectively show the struggle between the two for control of the ward. With the audience situated on two sides of the stage, director Ben Tyler expertly stages the action in the small space that allows for an intimate view into the play's personal moments of pain and suffering. The result is an ultimately moving production of this classic play." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Dale Wasserman’s play One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on Ken Kesey’s novel about institutionalized psychopaths, is one of the biggest dramatic challenges awaiting any community theater.  Peoria’s Theater Works presents a solid if not perfect production because of strong performances in the two leading roles that helps distinguish this production.  The rest of the acting ensemble struggles to deliver distinctive interpretations of the other patients. Essaying the major roles are two stalwart local professional performers with impressive acting credentials.  Cathy Dresbach takes a different but successful approach to power hungry Nurse Ratched while Matt Zimmerer assumes the expected bombastic approach and lusty bravado long associated with patient Randle P. McMurphy. Dresbach presents a less intense Nurse Ratched than usual but Dresbach instills the Nurse with a maniacal evilness as she establishes her rule over the ward.  Zimmerer’s McMurphy starts out as a defiant know-it-all who is determined to take charge and override Nurse Ratched.  At times he almost wins and Zimmerer convinces us that he has the determination to succeed.  It’s the supporting cast that fails to get below the superficial surfaces of their characters because they lack the finely tuned acting chops to make each patient different and unique.   When the script moves away from the Ratched/McMurphy fight, the Ben Tyler directed production sputters on and on with endless chatter that doesn’t keep the audience engaged. The production is staged with audience on either side of the action but the production concept yearns more for a more conventional thrust staging concept where the Nurses station could be better centered.  That Theater Works attracted two professional performers to the lead roles of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” says something about the talent now available to the theater.  That the supporting cast doesn’t bring the same exemplary acting hurts the production." -Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"I checked out Theater Works' black-box production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for two reasons: to patch a hole in my cultural literacy and to see Cathy Dresbach play Nurse Ratched. Unfortunately, and with apologies to Dresbach, who is one of the finest actors in the Valley, her heart just didn't seem to be into playing the sadistic, sexually repressed "ball-cutter" who rules the roost in an Oregon insane asylum. The entire play oozes with masculine paranoia, presenting a mental ward packed with inmates rendered "small" by domineering wives or mothers. The ultimate punishment for misbehavior, frontal lobotomy, is described as "castration for the brain," and because the asylum is implicitly posited as a microcosm of an illusory American democracy, we have no choice but to lay all of society's dysfunctions at the feet of uppity women. All that said, there's no question that Cuckoo's Nest is provocatively written and creepily engaging, and Theater Works' production, directed by Ben Tyler, is certainly well done. Though Dresbach's Nurse Ratched lacks menace, Matt Zimmerer has charisma to burn as Randal P. McMurphy, the roguish petty criminal who gets himself committed as an alternative to serving hard labor, only to find that he'll be doing anything but "easy time." Throw in a delightfully wormy psychiatrist in Beau Heckman and game performances from the variously emasculated inmates and you have a real edge-of-your seat experience, even if the dated story speaks only to the delusional anxieties of the past." -Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Who makes the rules, and why do they make the rules they make? Who defines what is normal? To what lengths will the wardens of men go to enforce their rules and suppress voices of dissent? To what extent will (must) the iconoclast go to preserve his freedom? If you haven't left a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest asking these questions, then maybe you need to watch again. Theater Works, in its current production of Ken Kesey's opus, adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman and directed by Ben Tyler, makes a compelling case for revisiting this biting and poignant story of the iconic antihero, Randle P. McMurphy and his close encounter with the iconic control freak, Nurse Ratched. A stage portrait of this classic competition between the two unrelenting forces of control versus freedom requires equally gripping performances that capture the distinctive pathos and pathology of each. Cathy Dresbach and Matt Zimmerer deliver on all counts; they are the fire and ice of this stirring drama. Ms. Dresbach, brilliant as always, nails the role of Nurse Ratched ~ the steely-eyed ice queen of the ward, cold and calculated in demeanor and direction, perfectly postured in nurse whites but hardly an angel of mercy. Mr. Zimmerer, in marked contrast, is a forceful stage presence, magnetic in his portrayal of McMurphy ~ an over-the-top huckster of fun and rebellion, relentless in his determination to crack Ratched, seducing his compatriots into acts of sabotage and declarations of independence from arbitrary authority. Their real deliverance, however, may be found in a man who may offer another path to sanity, balance, and perhaps salvation. Such possibility is revealed in a poignant moment between McMurphy and Chief Bromden, the erstwhile narrator of the play. The Chief wants to know if McMurphy is going to back down, and, in the course of their exchange, expresses doubt about his own strength. The Chief implores McMurphy to make him big again. McMurphy: "Why, hell, Chief, looks to me like you growed half a foot already!" Chief Bromden: "How can I be big if you ain't? How can anybody?"  A cast of finely portrayed characters rounds out this well-crafted production of Cuckoo's Nest-Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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