‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ a stellar production at 6th Street
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By Don Gibble  November 8, 2013 12:00 am

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is one of my favorite movies, and Jack Nicholson is my favorite actor.

So, I get excited when I get to see a stage version. For those of you who have never seen “Cuckoo’s Nest” on stage, you’re in for a treat. 

I believe the production at 6th Street Playhouse is the best I have ever seen.

The play is set in 1963, but the issues talked about could be talked about now. We might like to believe things are black or white, but they aren’t. There are many shades of grey. 

Who’s to say what is crazy and what isn’t? And who gets to decide what to do about people deemed to be at the wrong end of the spectrum? 

Few plays examine these issues with such depth and clarity as Dale Wasserman’s “Cuckoo’s Nest,” adapted from the novel by Ken Kesey. The play, originally performed in 1963, received Tony awards when it was revived in 2001.

Set in a state mental hospital, the play revolves around the arrival of new patient Randle P. McMurphy. Planning to serve a short sentence in the institution rather than go to a prison work farm, McMurphy immediately shakes things up among the other patients, jarring them from their usual routines. 

He also butts heads with the tough and unyielding Nurse Ratched, who runs the ward with an iron fist.

Director Lennie Dean has helped her cast find the truth in their characters, taking them from stereotypical stock “mental patients” to real, flesh-and-blood human beings. 

The ensemble is excellent. Edward McCloud is very good as McMurphy, showing amazing charisma and energy. A real standout among the actors is Lito Briano as Martini. 

You can tell how much fun he’s having on stage. Justin Keim as Billy, Alan Kaplan as Scanlon, Tice Allison as Cheswick, Dallas Munger as Dale Harding and Nick Christenson as Chief Bromden round out an amazing group of actors who bring real believability to their roles. When the patients are all together on stage, rallying behind McMurphy and cheering on an imaginary baseball game, their joy and excitement are infectious.

Some of the patients are in the institution by choice, for one reason or another. 

They can’t or won’t deal with a society that might label people “crazy” a little too easily or that often tries to cure instantly with shock treatments and lobotomies. It’s also a society that, even though Kesey wrote it in 1962, is still very familiar today. Now we just use pills and medications rather than shock treatments. Even today, it may be that the McMurphys and Chief Bromdens among us are the ones who are truly sane.

Performances run through Nov. 10. Reserve tickets by calling (707) 523-4185.

The 6th Street Playhouse is located at 52 W. 6th Street in Santa Rosa.

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