Friday night: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Portland Center Stage. So great to go with Holly, fellow writer and big Kesey fan, and be able to talk all kinds of Kesey, including her wonderful experience on one occasion of the man's birthday.
Review without spoilers: go see it.
Review with some spoilers...
First off, the set was great and used very effectively. The day room presided over by Nurse Ratched behind glass in her cubicle like a control booth in some spaceship was oppressive and claustrophobic, but the hallway leading back into the rest of the institution - that was even more oppressive. Our seats were over on the right, so I couldn't see the end of that hall, but even so - that is a dangerous corridor. Feels iconic, like the entrance to hell.
Nurse Ratched's little glassed-in room: again, really effective. It has that feel of the royal box at the Roman games, where the king pronounces thumbs-up or thumbs-down. And the control panel studded with lights in the background - a line of lights fade on and off, on and off, like the machine is breathing. A wonderful reference to Chief Bromden's "Combine."
More great stuff with light: the hanging institutional lights contrasting with the pattern of sunlight (freedom) angling down to the floor from the window to the outside.
I loved the opening. First of all, you hear a bit of the "one flew east, one flew west," rhyme, and I swear that's Kesey's voice, there. If it's not, it sure sounds like him.
Of course, the book is told from the Chief's point of view, and you can't help but expect to miss that when you see it on stage. Wasserman's script finds a way to pay homage to that part of the story, and to give voice to Chief's "Combine" ideas, among other things, with the short passages the Chief recites as if speaking to his father. The best use of this is in the opening. Chief standing in the pattern of sunlight on the floor and looking out at freedom, talking to his father, his voice "big" the way he will be "big" at the end of the story - and then he finishes what he has to say and his head droops and all that "big" and all that freedom is gone.
I have to say, by the third or fourth time, this felt device-y and I worried that it would start to annoy me. Then it stopped. In a place where it made sense for it to stop, felt right that it would stop, because of how the character and the story had changed.
The production felt really well balanced to me between funny and devastating. I laughed a lot. I was shocked at particular moments. Sometimes it's great to have a bad memory. I forgot a couple of key moments in the plot, and when they happened, they grabbed me hard.
I thought the cast did a wonderful job. Particularly Ryan Tresser playing Billy Bibbit with pitch-perfect innocence and a beautiful stammer. When Billy tells a story about himself stuttering, that stutter sounds appropriately faked, and when he speaks normally, that stutter sounds authentic.
Here are the two biggies. I thought both PJ Sosko as McMurphy and Gretchen Corbett as Ratched were very good.
And Stephen Caffrey as Harding was just the right amount of what he needed to be. The right amount of self-confidence, the right amount of fear, the right amount of priss.
Ooh, and again: that thing about how nice it is at times to have a bad memory. I didn't remember this scene happening the same way in the book. Wasn't it different in the book? I don't know, but what happens in the World Series scene and how it was executed in this production was some lovely magic.
PCS always does Kesey proud. I loved their Sometimes a Great Notion and thought this was great too. It's playing through the end of March.
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