Western Reserve Playhouse staging ‘excellent’ ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’

By David Ritchey

Starring in Western Reserve Playhouse’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are, from left, Vince Sarowatz, Ryan Rasnick, Craig Webb, Dennis Burby, Andrew Gordon, Ryan Dyke, April Deming and Joe Turner.
Photo: Chris Douglas

Western Reserve Playhouse (WRP) continues its run of successful performances with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which runs through May 26.

The script, written by Dale Wasserman, is based on the book by Ken Kesey.

The story is set in a psychiatric hospital in Oregon. The men locked in the hospital have few choices in the world. They have been incarcerated in the hospital because of things the world has done to them. Enough medicine makes them quiet, gentle and obviously controlled. The men are tamed by Nurse Ratched (April Deming) and a few male attendants. Everything runs smoothly until McMurphy (Ryan Rasnick) is assigned to the ward shared by the other patients.

McMurphy wants to take care of the men in his ward. He wants the men to get afternoon TV privileges so they can watch the World Series on TV. McMurphy wants the men to have the freedom to gamble, which is against hospital rules and regulations. Hard liquor, wine and beer in any form are not permitted. With McMurphy’s encouragement, the men have campaigned for a party. Nurse Ratched is opposed.

Much of the success of this production belongs to Director Brian Westerley, WRP co-artistic director. Westerley selects scripts to challenge himself as a director and to challenge the audience. He carefully casts performers and works to bring out the best in each actor.

Westerley brought out the superb difference between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. McMurphy is masculine and strong and Ratched is almost soft spoken, but strong and tough. The director keeps the patient and the nurse ready to fight a war against each other.

The change in Chief Bromden (Dennis Burby), a Native American chief who was destroyed by the treatment in the psychiatric hospital, illustrates the excellent work that can be done by a good actor as he works to change his character.

This is an excellent production. One actor is not better than the other. The actors are simply dedicated to telling an excellent story and telling it well.

The show is running during Mental Health Awareness Month. WRP partnered with Portage Path Behavioral Health and is featuring talkbacks after the performances on May 20 and 25. The talkbacks include the ability to talk with the cast and director, as well as different clinicians who specialize in mental illness. On May 12, the talkback was informative and helpful. Try not to miss this added feature of the performance.

For tickets, call 330-620-7314 or visit www.westernreserveplayhouse.org.

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.

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