Corrections or additions?
This Broadway review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the May
23, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Simon Saltzman: Cuckoo’s Nest
When the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theater Company
invades Broadway (as they have in recent seasons with astonishing
productions of "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Buried
you can always expect them to set in motion a veritable twister of
dramatic turbulence. Although the highest level of bravado acting
is a given with this company, their collective input on `One Flew
Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ does not offer enough to keep Dale Wasserman’s
play from appearing dated and surprisingly dull. Despite a searing
energized performance by Gary Sinise as McMurphy, Terry Kinney’s
direction hasn’t done enough to salvage this problematic, indeed
play set in a mental institution.
In trying to give it cohesive shape, Kinney does everything but whip
this play into submission. Yet even with the help of a fine 21-member
cast, only a modicum of credibility emerges. Indeed Kinney must deal
with the author’s confusing mixture of melodramatic inanity with the
more realistically deployed contrivances that help to make this
something of a special case. It takes a lot of patience to become
both empathetic and more than a little anxious for this aggressively
optimistic inmate who, after being convicted of statutory rape, allows
himself to be confined rather than submit to time on a work farm.
Sinise plunges into the role of Randle P. McMurphy (originated on
Broadway by Kirk Douglas and recreated on the screen by Jack
with a boldly manufactured machismo, as well as a measure of naivete.
If Sinise’s increasingly frenetic, but always cunning, attempts to
incite a revolt among the inmates add the necessary excitement to
the asylum antics, they still don’t make Wasserman’s melodrama easy
As McMurphy’s nemesis Nurse Ratched, Amy Morton has given the soft
pedal to this she-demon’s barely suppressed neurosis. Morton
to her assigned patients with the prerequisite touch of motherly hate,
but she is never chilling enough by half. Other performances, like
Eric Johner’s stuttering, mother-fixated Billy; Danton Stone’s
Martini; K. Todd Freeman’s unconscionably spineless Dr. Spivey; Tim
Sampson’s mostly speechless hulk of an Indian Chief; and Mariann
and Sarah Charipar, as a couple of ward-crashing floozies come close,
but never exceed the boundaries of artful histrionics.
It was Ross Lehman, as the emotional wreck Dale, who impressed me
most with his sensitive projection of insecurity. He provokes genuine
laughter with such erudite observations as, "This place is a
The mirth may be as rampant as the madness and the terror in Kinney’s
staging, but after two-and-a-half hours of these
set in the confines of Robert Brill’s cold, calculated, hallucinatory
setting, you may find yourself asking for a straitjacket of your own.
Two stars: Maybe you should have stayed home.
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