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

Child"),

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

forceful

direction hasn’t done enough to salvage this problematic, indeed

neurotic

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

comedy/drama

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

Nicholson)

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

to swallow.

As McMurphy’s nemesis Nurse Ratched, Amy Morton has given the soft

pedal to this she-demon’s barely suppressed neurosis. Morton

administers

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

childlike

Martini; K. Todd Freeman’s unconscionably spineless Dr. Spivey; Tim

Sampson’s mostly speechless hulk of an Indian Chief; and Mariann

Mayberry

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

madhouse."

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

"psycho-ceramics,"

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.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Royale Theater, 242 West

45 Street, New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

$30 to $75.


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