James Agee described Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Hemingway’s Harry Morgan as “Nietzsche in dungarees,” and you get a similar sense of ironic grandeur with Patrick Jordan’s portrayal of Ken Kesey’s Randle McMurphy — another madman in blue jeans.
What barebones productions’ cast and crew achieve with Dale Wasserman’s 1963 adaptation of Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is stunning on every level. The drama about life in a psychiatric ward is slick, lyrical and raw: Imagine a Living Theatre production performed on Broadway. The entire cast is so strong, even the minor roles seem big.
We enter the ward — surrounded by barbed wire — and are addressed not as the audience but as patients. Tony Ferrieri’s set in the New Hazlett Theater is like an art installation, except better. With its surreal vanishing point focused on a single, ominous door, you feel like you’re sitting inside a Renaissance perspective painting by Brunelleschi.
Director Melissa Martin’s blocking has the actors moving so organically you lose the impression of a proscenium stage. The energy created from this — and the crisp pacing — becomes palpable. Elevating the catatonic Ruckly (John Gresh) like a crucified Christ during the mock wedding scene is divine.
The combustion of Jordan’s fiery McMurphy and Kim Parker Green’s icy Nurse Ratched is portended by the acrid smoke filling the theater, preshow. Green lets Ratched’s diabolic soul emerge through her crisp, uniformed persona like the horns growing slowly under her hair as the play evolves.
Leandro Cano’s mesmerizing poetic interludes as Chief Bromden counterbalance the parts of the action ready to tear loose, with an extraordinary sense of pathos.
Sound designer Dave Bjornson’s contribution to the power of this production is enormous, as is Andrew Ostrowski’s lighting. Synergistically their efforts create the presence of a force as demonstrable as any character on the stage.
Randy Kovitz’s Harding is exquisitely paranoid, and he rocks the house with the line, “We are psycho-ceramics, the crackpots of humanity.” Nick Lehane plays the stuttering Billy with a relaxed sensitivity, absolutely avoiding the clichéd pitfalls of this doomed character.
To barebones’ credit, we leave this performance with more questions than answers, and the suspicion that anyone can be a madman in dungarees.