“Wire, briar, limber, lock
“Three geese in a flock
“One flew east
“One flew west
“And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”
At some point mid-play, Chief Bromden (Sam Gilstrap) and Randle P. McMurphy (Scott Bellot) lock pinkies and repeat this nonsense rhyme that gives the play its name. Based on a novel by Ken Kesey, adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” premiered on Broadway in 1964. It has had two revivals and a film version based on the novel.
The Edge Theatre Company stages a well-thought-out revival of this enduring play through June 30, with a starring turn by Scott Bellot as the high-strung Randle P. McMurphy, who thought commitment as a psychopath might be easier to tolerate than the prison farm — so he convinced the powers that be that he was insane.
“Which of you is the Bull Goose Looney?” he demands. “I’m next in line for the job. Take me to your leader,” he tells an astonished, stuttering Billy Bibbit (Joe Von Bokern). That would be the scholarly Harding (Ken Street), who heads the patient council and explains that “we are the curables. Over there are the chronics.”
McMurphy proceeds to organize card games, basketball, TV watching and more, and becomes especially close with the Chief, who has been pretending to be deaf and dumb.
Director Rick Yaconis has worked well with a fairly large cast for the space available, although some of the guys on the ward overact a bit. Each is an individual with a distinct ailment.
And then, there is the evil Nurse Ratched, played chillingly by Jada Roberts. A clash is inevitable. Her eyes glitter.
“For me, it is a timeless story about a struggle for power and control that rings true in any year,” Yaconis writes. “It’s also a deeply moving and hilarious play with a sensitive core topic of mental disorders and inadequacies that the people who suffer from them feel.”
This is an appropriate choice in a time of increased public conversation about treatment of mental illnesses — and the lack thereof.
McMurphy gives new life to the patients who are living in fear of the controlling nurse. Bellot’s performance alone is well worth the ticket price.