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In the current Raleigh Little Theatre production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, artfully adapted for Broadway from Ken Kesey's 1962 novel by Dale Wasserman and provocatively staged for RLT by Linda O'Day Young and Rick Young, Seth A. Blum and Maggie Rasnick play charismatic petty criminal Randle Patrick McMurphy, who masquerades as a mental patient to escape the drudgery of the prison work farm, and his arch-nemesis Nurse Ratched. They have some mighty big shoes to fill.
Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher earned the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Awards® for their seemingly definitive performances of these characters in director Milos Forman's 1975 motion-picture version of Cuckoo's Nest, scripted by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. But the characters immortalized on the silver screen by Nicholson and Fletcher are slightly different beings from the characters who inhabit Dale Wasserman's alternately hilarious and harrowing stage adaptation, which views all this monkey business in the day room of a men's ward in a Portland, Oregon mental hospital through the eyes of the apparently catatonic schizophrenic Chief Bromden (passionately played by Kurt Benrud). And that gives Seth Blum and Maggie Rasnick room to recast these roles to play to their own strengths as actors.
Blum is a pistol as McMurphy, the irrepressible free spirit who delights in stirring up the residents of the ward where head Nurse Ratched presides like a resident dragon. McMurphy brings more than a whiff of anarchy to Nurse Ratched's serene and carefully controlled therapeutic environment in which heavily medicated patients stumble through day after boring day in a pharmaceutical haze.
While Blum's cock-of-the-walk swagger, his big mouth, and his outrageous antics have the ward in an uproar, Maggie Rasnick smolders. Nurse Ratched regards McMurphy's smart-aleck backtalk and his increasingly disruptive shenanigans with barely suppressed rage. In a part in which her character must hold her venom for just the right moment, Rasnick coils herself like a deadly poisonous snake preparing to strike.
Kurt Benrud is excellent as the catatonic, supposedly deaf and mute Chief Bromden, a displaced Native American whose formidable defensive shell is finally pierced by McMurphy; Timothy Cherry is amusing as Dale Harding, the prissy president of the patients' council; Justin Farr is sweet and sad as Ellis the religious maniac who compulsively reenacts Christ's crucifixion, writhing against the back wall of the ward; and Thomas Porter is charming as poor innocent, stuttering, suicidal, hag-ridden Billy Bibbit, whom McMurphy momentarily rescues from wallowing in a sea of despond.
Larry Evans is a hoot as hyperactive Anthony Martini; Claire Wagner is a scream as McMurphy's friend, sex bomb Candy Starr, whose hip-swinging visits thoroughly disrupt the ward; and Carroll Credle is good as a pot-smoking hospital Aide Turkle, whom McMurphy bribes with liquor to let the girls in for an after-hours party.
Derek Taylor, Mark Anthony Aman, and Dawn Nuzzi are good as a pair of surly hospital aides and a scatterbrained nurse; Staci Sabarsky contributes a nice cameo as a drunken former McMurphy girlfriend; and Jeff Buckner, David Coulter, J. Scott Enroughty, Del Flack, Phil Lewis, Al Marsiglia, Thomas Porter, and Matt Schedler complete the cast.
With strong leads in Blum, Rasnick, and Benrud and an exceptionally talented and expressive supporting cast, RLT's raucous R-rated rendition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest earned a standing ovation last night, thanks in large part to savvy staging by the husband and wife team of Linda O'Day Young and Rick Young. Rick Young, who is RLT's resident scenic and lighting designer, also does a magnificent job of recreating not just the details — but the oppressive institutional ambience — of the day room of a men's ward. Costume designer Lydia Wagner, sound designer Elisheba Ittoop, fight choreographer Carmen-maria Mandley, and projections designer Larry Evans also do their best to make Cuckoo's Nest a drama to remember.
Second Opinion: Sept. 22nd Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods: http://indyweek.com/durham/current/woods.html.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 22-25, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 26, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 2, at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 3, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatres). $15 ($12 students and senior Sunday matinees). 919/821-3111 or http://www1.etix.com/ticket/servlet/onlineSearch?action=venueSearch&venue_id=279&cobrand=RLT. Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and there will be assistive listening devices for the hard of hearing at all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/cuckoo.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=6772. Internet Movie Database (1975 Film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073486/.