- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

On one hand, we Americans dearly love our rebels. On the other, we usually do everything in our power to destroy them.

This contradiction is explored in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” playwright Dale Wasserman's adaptation of Ken Kesey's 1962 novel, a seething and comic indictment of institutional control and brute authority. In 1975, the book was made into the powerhouse movie starring Jack Nicholson as the heroic mental ward patient Randle P. McMurphy.

Though you might think Mr. Nicholson's performance in the Milos Forman film (which also starred Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif and Christopher Lloyd) is the be-all-and-end-all “Cuckoo” experience, Round House Theatre's revival of the stage play - directed by Jerry Whiddon - is powerful and immediate and features some of the best ensemble acting you're likely to see in the area this spring.

“Cuckoo” centers on the turf battle between McMurphy (Matthew Detmer), a fatally overconfident transferee from the prison work farm who fakes insanity to get out of the fields, and Nurse Ratched (Kathryn Kelley), a routine-loving fussbudget who controls her patients through shame.

McMurphy wins over all the male patients on the unit because of his incessant antagonism of Ratched and his challenging of the rules. When it looks as if the head lunatic is going to run the asylum, Ratched takes draconian measures to restore order.

For a woman, “Cuckoo” can be a tough slog. All the woes of the world and the ward are blamed on females - from patient Billy Bibbit's (Matt Farabee) stutter and pathological timidity (it's mom's fault) to fellow nut cases Dale Harding's (John Lescault) emasculation (his wife is so womanly it has turned him gay) and American Indian Chief Bromden's (Michael Nichols) muteness and diminution (his mother henpecked his once-proud father).

The women onstage embrace each negative stereotype. Ratched is the uber castrating witch, and McMurphy's female friends Candy (Marissa Molnar) and Sandy (Jjana Valentiner) are brassy and braying hookers with hearts of gold.

If you can look past the misogyny, Round House's “Cuckoo” gives off a potent charge, especially in the more emotionally satisfying second act, where Mr. Detmer's McMurphy settles down from touting himself as the ultimate swaggering bad boy (he's electrifying, but it's not a one-man show) and interacts with the other characters. Mr. Detmer establishes a gentle and lovely rapport with Mr. Nichols' commanding Chief Bromden, perhaps the play's true hero, and with Mr. Lescault as the floridly tormented Southern gentleman Harding.

The rest of the cast also settles into an engaging rhythm as they portray the routines of mental illness, including Martini's (Michael Vitaly Sazonov) balletic compulsive patterns, Scanlon's (Jefferson A. Russell) tics and whistles, Ruckley's (Scott McCormick) Christ complex and Cheswick's (Hugh Nees) inappropriate responses to stimuli.

★★★

WHAT: ”One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” by Dale Wasserman, based on Ken Kesey's novel

WHERE: Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through April 26.

TICKETS:$25 to $60

PHONE: 240/644-1100

WEB SITE: www.roundhousetheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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