MIDVALE — Audiences may already be familiar with the 1975 film which received 5 Academy Awards and 6 Golden Globes. The script’s got meat and it’s no wonder it achieved such success. What a thrilling opportunity to see the stage play at the Midvale Main Street Theatre directed by Mike Hardy.
Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was written in 1962 and it was brought to the stage the following year by Dale Wasserman. The play follows Randall McMurphy who, after a short stint in prison, convinces the authorities to transfer him to a mental facility for observation, though his real intentions are simply to avoid a sentence of hard labor. McMurphy befriends his fellow patients; incites a quasi-revolution against the calm, yet unyielding tyrant Nurse Ratched; but the tragedy that follows alights a new hope for one particular patient.
MMST’s production is surprisingly engaging. Audiences used to the flair of Pioneer, the Hales, or many arts council productions will start out disappointed. The stage is largely bare save for a table and a few chairs, the costumes are simple yet appropriate, and the lighting does it’s job but little more. My first fifteen minutes with the productions left me with doubts for the evening. The acting was cautious. The pacing was loose, and the pictures were flat.
But it worked.
This is a show that takes a little investment and trust in the meat of the text. If you make that investment you’ll soon see and appreciate the quality of the work being done on stage.
Garrick Dean leads the cast in his portrayal of Randall McMurphy bringing with it an energy that spreads not only to his fellow patients but to the audience as well. There were moments where he deeply connected with the text and that rooted me in the performance. His interactions with Chief Bromden (Rog Benally) and Billy Bibbit (Drew Burke), were perhaps the most sincere and justified moments of the evening. I would love to have seen a deeper representation of how he conned his way into the hospital, but nonetheless I found his performance sincere, effective, and a great strength to the production.
Eve Speer’s portrayal of the calm tyrant Nurse Ratched was strong and steady. I found myself longing to see some sort of journey for her character though. Largely I was left with a villain lacking any real justification behind why I ought to hate or love her. Still, on a whole her performance worked for the show.
The rest of the ensemble are subtle in their performances, but my how they lend themselves well to the roles. Aside from the occasional pacing issues, I was pleased with the strength of the cast as a whole. The cast feels very close. There is heart in their performances. That’s where the beauty in the production lies and I feel it is a great example of why community theatre is important.
As I mentioned, this show has some meat. If you can take the time to look past the rough edges and see it for what it really is, I do recommend you stop by the Midvale Main Street Theatre and see what this group of Utah artists has put together. It’s an exciting space and I look forward to seeing what happens in the coming months.