One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dan Wasserman’s stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, which premiered on Broadway November 13, 1963 and ran for 82 performances with two revivals (off-Broadway, 1971, and Broadway, 2001) and inspired a film version starring Jack Nicholson, premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Brian M. Touchette (It’s A Wonderful Life) is at the helm of this latest CSP production which has become a modern day American classic. Susan Boudreaux (last seen in Murder on Cue) has taken the assistant director’s chair this time out. OFOTCN stars (in order of appearance), Arthur D. Paul, Chis Hankenson, Stephen M. Ashby, Michael D. Peco, Joe Pukatsch, Michelle Opalesky, Shelli Haynes, Kristin Williamson, Alan Harbaugh, Stephen Ross Ashby, Josh Pelikan, Frank Newton, André Wilkins, Matthew Brown, Scott F. Mason, Pete Matthews, Amy Bucco, and Krista Williams.

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The humdrum of an Oregon state mental hospital ward is thrown into chaos when Randle P. McMurphy manages to get himself committed, opting to serve his time “for repeated outbreaks of passion that suggest the possible diagnosis of [a] psychopath” in the institution to avoid hard labor at a work farm. McMurphy believes his sentence will be easier in the hospital, but realizes his error when he clashes with Head Nurse Ratched, a fierce martinet. In defiance, McMurphy takes control of the ward, doing what the medical professionals could not. He inspires a presumed deaf and dumb man to speak, he leads other patients out of introversion, stages a revolt to watch the World Series on TV, and arranges a wild party with booze and floosies. Ratched’s punishment for these transgressions is swift and merciless. This landmark drama highlights the despotic environments in mid-20th century state mental hospitals. Psychiatric medicines had, by then, become part of the treatment plan, but such barbaric practices as electric shock therapy and frontal lobotomies were still practiced, especially in the treatment of violent patients.

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Mason is well-known to CSP audiences both on and off the stage. He’s a fine actor and quite likeable as McMurphy, a crass and sarcastic minor criminal who finds ways to challenge Ratched’s strict authority and encourages an uprising. I was somewhat bemused by the raspy, Popeye-like voice with which Mason chose to portray the character and the unexplained, sporadic physical ailment that seems to plague McMurphy, but despite those things, Mason succeeds in winning the audience over, portraying McMurphy’s warmth, humor, and strength of character as he leads the other patients in revolt.

Ratched (Haynes) is the quintessential villain. The Machiavellian head nurse reigns supreme over the asylum, her own personal island of misfit toys. Haynes’ Ratched plays more subtly at first, her counterfeit compassion slowly dissolving, revealing her manipulative and masochistic nature as she bullies her patients—as well as Dr. Spivey (Matthews)—into submission. Haynes plays the tyrannical nurse to perfection with her artificial smile and stoic demeanor, never retreating, even in the face of McMurphy’s most loathsome taunts and pranks.

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The ensemble group of inmates in this looney bin is exceptional and they are what allows this drama to flow so easily. Character commitment throughout the production is extraordinary and consistently displayed. Arthur D. Paul delivers a touching performance as Chief Bromdon, a Native American who feigns being a deaf mute for years out of fear that he is not big enough to fight the system. Stephen Ross Ashby (Billie Bibbit) is endearing as a stuttering young man who’s spent his entire life wallowing in self-reproach, feeling he’s a disappointment to everyone, desperately seeking his mother’s approval, and who just wants to find someone who’ll love him. Alan Harbaugh (Harding), Frank Newton (Cheswick), André Wilkins (Martini), and Josh Pelikan (Scanlon) make up the core quintet of the asylum (which includes Billie). Their antics deliver huge laughs such as when Martini deals cards to players he’s hallucinated and licks the erotic playing card Randle shows him. Pelikan is just insanely funny as Scanlon. Kristin Williamson is a hoot as Ratched’s timid nursing assistant, garnering giggles with her fearful outbursts. Amy Bucco, Krista Williams, Michelle Opalesky, Michael D. Peco, and Chris Hankenson all deliver solid performances as Candy Starr, Sandy, and Aides Williams, Warren, and Turkle, respectively. Matthew Brown (Buckley), with his shocking crucifixion poses and side-splitting larks, gains the audience’s full attention without uttering a word. Even Stephen M. Ashby, and Joe Pukatsch (Chronic Patients 1 and 2) were quite effective as “chronics,” all their conditions perfectly articulated physically and emotionally.

Brian Touchette does a fine job directing the production, setting a nice pace to keep the action flowing, making great use of the stage, and managing the large cast. Touchette also designed the set, partnering with Scott Mason, Michelle Cullen, and Pete Matthews among others to bring it from concept to reality. The direction CSP took in designing and building the set was refreshingly different from other productions I’ve seen—slightly nightmarish and industrialized versus pristine and antiseptic. Special effects/Pyrotechnics and video imagery are spectacular, kudos to Ray Barto and Peter Kuo. Lighting and costumes are also first rate.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a sobering American drama packaged as a circus side show that has the audience laughing right up to the mind-altering end. The benefits of theater as therapy cannot be overstated. My prescription is a brief stay at the Chapel Street Asylum. A group therapy session with the resident psycho-ceramics (the cracked pots of mankind) is highly recommended. You’d be crazy to miss One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which runs through September 29th. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.

Murder on Cue

Murder on Cue, an original play by Scott F. Mason premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage last Friday evening. Mason is also at the helm as director for this latest CSP production, which is the theater company’s 55th annual Reneé G. O’Leary FUNdraiser. The play is an homage to the wonderful whodunnit mysteries of the past as well as to the classic Parker Brothers board game, Clue, but also spoofs Newark, Community Theater, and CSP actors/board members with inside jokes and laughs galore. If films such as Murder by Death and Clue (the movie) tickled your funny bone, then you’ll rather enjoy Murder on Cue starring…well, everybody (except, unfortunately, a certain dame), but particularly: Heather McCarty, Walt Osborne, Courtney Lynahan, Zachary Jackson, Patricia Lake, Pete Matthews, Brittany Wilson, Reneé G. O’Leary, and Susan Boudreaux. Of these things, you may be certain, when Scott F. Mason (he prefers the use of the “F” when using his name) writes a play, zaniness, crazy plot twists, bawdy humor, a colorful cast of characters, and a good time are all guaranteed.

 

Walt Osborne as Cleopold Poupon (photo by Peter Kuo)

It’s rather difficult to review this play. Not because it’s bad. It isn’t at all. Murder on Cue is smartly written and wickedly funny with a stellar cast. It’s not because I’m at a loss for words either. I’m not. I’d love to tell you all about this play, but I can’t as it would spoil the fun for you. Oh sure, I could use bold type font and warn you of a SPOILER ALERT! But let’s be honest, most of you would keep reading and spoil the fun for yourselves then regret it. I’m going to save you from yourselves. I will NOT spoil it for you. The butler did it!

 

Heather McCarty as Waddington the housekeeper (photo by Peter Kuo)

I’m kidding. The butler didn’t do it. There is no butler. There is a side-splittingly funny, deaf housekeeper (McCarty) who must read lips to know what is going on. Question: How does a deaf housekeeper know when the doorbell rings? Answer: You’ll have to watch the play to know. As in Clue, a group of strangers gather at a spooky mansion on a stormy night, responding to an invitation from their mysterious hosts, the Parkers. There’s Colonel Poupon…no, wait! Hmm. I am the very model of a modern…Major-General! Major-General Cleopold Poupon (Osborne) who is not only brilliantly funny, but also a talented song and dance man. Sister Pearl Ivory (Lynahan) is a nun who has taken a vow of silence and comically breaks that vow when the lunacy of the other guests undermines her effort and drives Sister Ivory over the edge. Plumber Butch Plump is a loud, obnoxious hyena of a man who cracks awful jokes. Unfortunately (especially for Poupon) jokes aren’t all Plumber Plump cracks. Lady Agatha Peasoup (Lake), Herr E. Grunschwanz (Matthews), Miss Car Lot (Wilson), the curvy, but dumb blonde, and Ms. Ing Boddy (O’Leary) round out the whacky group of guests and garner big laughs. Agatha (Boudreaux), an Alexa wannabe, causes a panic and generates guffaws when she secures the mansion.

 

Courtney Lynahan as Sister Ivory(photo by Peter Kuo)

The guests are gathered in the drawing room, awaiting their mysterious hosts when, suddenly, the lights fail and plunge the mansion into inky blackness. Gunshots ring out in the dark! When the lights come up, there’s a body and a room full of suspects—including you!

 

Reneé O’Leary as Ms. Ing Boddy (photo by Peter Kuo)

Think you know who the killer is? Can you figure it out ahead of the police? This is your chance to be an armchair (or rather theater seat) detective, so grab your fedora and your notebook and check out the usual suspects at Chapel Street Players, but hurry, Murder on Cue runs only until June 16th. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.

The Memory of Water

The Memory of Water, a comedy by English playwright Shelagh Stephenson that won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Comedy when it premiered at the Hampstead Theater in 1996, has come to the Chapel Street Players stage. Director Kathleen M. Kimber helms this latest CSP production that stars: Susan Boudreaux, Susie Moak, Lori Ann Johnson, and Cyndie Romer. Dave Hastings and Frank Newton round out the talented ensemble cast.

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National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day, an annual LGBTQ awareness day founded in the US in 1988. The foundational belief was that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance. Well, it’s fair to say that in 2017, there is still an over abundance of ignorance in this country. In fact, as a community, we have been forced back a few steps and I don’t believe it’s a mystery to anyone with political sense why that has happened, but the LGBTQ community has certainly not been silent and is not likely to be. For many years, I hid my sexuality, especially during my service in the Air Force for fear of being kicked out of the service. I was afraid of being persecuted. I was afraid my family would disown me and my friends would abandon me. I feared what society would think and how they would treat me. When I came out at age 49, it took a great deal of courage, but it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I wished I hadn’t waited so long. That was nearly four years ago and none of those things that I was concerned about has happened. Sure, there are friends and acquaintances that probably don’t approve and are under the misguided notion that my sexuality is a choice. No one that I’m aware of has gone to the trouble of unfriending me on Facebook, but I bet they’ve passive-aggressively elected not to receive Facebook post notifications from me or simply choose not to like/comment on my posts. I’ve noticed. Now ask me if I lose sleep over it. The important thing is that I have a loving family, a wonderful boyfriend, and a diverse group of amazing friends (old and new) in my life. I am truly blessed! Today, I’m out and proud, gay and fabulous (I better be, I spent enough time in the closet-haha). I feel that I can finally be my authentic self. Coming out is intensely personal and scary as hell. If you are struggling with whether or not to come out, only you can make that decision. You know your family and friends best and whether they will accept you or not. I know that some families have disowned their sons/daughters and/or kicked them out of their homes. Some families have tried to stage interventions, tried to “pray the gay away” or turn their sons and daughters over to some sadistic, so-called preacher or witch doctor for brainwashing. I’d like to believe those are the exceptions and not the rule. If you’re worried that midnight is fast approaching and you haven’t come out because you’re not quite ready, relax. You don’t need a special day to come out. It doesn’t matter if you come out on October 11th or on a Tuesday in the middle of January. If you come out and and no one disowns you or tries to pray your gay away, it’s a good day. If you come out and a few buddies or your great-uncle decide they’re done with you, well, that’s gonna suck, but there will be others waiting to welcome you into the LGBTQ community with open arms and hearts. And, yeah, it may suck to lose a friend or family member, but it’s their loss, not yours. Things will still be okay. So, be out, be proud and loud (not silent).

1984: More Relevant Than Ever

 

Chapel Street Players launch their 83rd season with 1984, the powerful and disturbingly provocative dystopian tale of a world ruthlessly controlled by a totalitarian government. Based on George Orwell’s chilling classic novel, 1984, adapted for the stage by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall, and William A. Miles, Jr., is a horrifying view of a society completely controlled by the government where, under the watchful eye of the all-knowing, all-seeing, Big Brother, war is peace, slavery is freedom, and independent thought, especially in opposition to the government constitutes thoughtcrime and means arrest, torture, death…or perhaps something far worse.

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