Theater Review: ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (After Hours Theatre Company in Burbank)

by Tony Frankel on June 14, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles

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FLY TO THIS NEST

Boy oh boy, if you like immersive theater, than check yourself into the madhouse over in Burbank.

When the rebellious, charismatic and playful Randle McMurphy gets reassigned from penal labor on a prison farm to assessment as an asylum inmate, he gathers that the mental institution will be a more lenient place to serve out a sentence. He meets his match with the passive-aggressive disciplinarian despot Nurse Ratched, who oversees the psychiatric ward with a tight rein and a hard line, controlling her gullible patients with cruelty, drugs, electroshock therapy, and controlled, undemocratic group sessions. While McMurphy tries to liberate the hospital with basketball games, TV, partying, and even women, the uncompromising Ratched squeezes her iron fists, and their battle of wills influences the ward’s patients to start thinking for themselves.

And in After Hours Theatre Company’s production of Dale Wasserman’s 1963 adaptation of Ken Kesey’s prescient 1962 anti-hero novel, you are the patient. Before lights up, you choose whether you are an “Acute Patient” (sitting in the playing area and interacting with the characters) or a “Chronic Patient” (sitting in elevated bench seats behind the action) and suit up accordingly (wear light clothing – it gets awful hot under those gowns). Arrive early for a pre-show of mingling, guessing and board games, and – for an extra charge — imbibing some seriously strong drinks from giant syringes.

The transformation of this large rehabilitated industrial room is amazing. Under the aegis of director Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx — and the hyperactive imagination of “Immersive Experience” designer Sarah Ashley Beil — the design is that of a realistic psych ward’s recreation room, with a nurse’s station looming at one end. Admire set designer Victoria Tam’s stained walls and Shen Heckel’s amazingly authentic props before the show, because Andrew Schmedake’s lights become the central design element, utilizing over 150 Edison filament bulbs that flicker with precision under the control of stage manager Summer Grubaugh.

The play holds up remarkably well, hewing closer to the novel than does the classic 1975 film adaptation. Not as remarkable is the cast in totality; no one sucks, but few actually fly over this cuckoo’s nest; it’s a shame that the acting doesn’t match the genius of the concept: Mick Torres certainly is magnetic as McMurphy, but he came off less insubordinate and more “Curly” from Oklahoma! Courtney Lloyd nails the steely aspect of Ratched but shows emotion late in the game, which makes little sense. Some in the ensemble play at being crazy or drunk, and diction can be a problem, but these issues don’t deter from the overall experience (it’s a long night, well over three hours, so Muñoz-Proulx — a true visionary — could pick up the pace a bit). Standouts are Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann as the Native-American “Chief” who bears the scars of maltreatment against his people, and Frank Gullihur as the stuttering virgin, Billy Bibbit, whose mother controls him from far away. This recommended affair must be supported for its inventiveness alone, but Kesey’s storytelling couldn’t be better.

photos by KJ Knies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
After Hours Theatre Company
SIX01 Studio, 630 S. Flower St. in Burbank
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7
ends on July 1, 2018 EXTENDED to July 22, 2018
for tickets, visit Cuckoo’s Nest L.A.

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