The Angels Theatre Company delivers an explosive and engaging theatrical gift with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which opened Friday night at the Haymarket Theatre.
This is a presentation of the 1963 Dale Wasserman script that cleaves closely to Ken Kesey’s novel, not to be confused with the 1975 film that served as a star vehicle for Jack Nicholson.
Under the direction of Mary Douglass, the ensemble work zings along breathlessly through its 2-hour, 10-minute course with a stop for an intermission.
The action takes place in a mental hospital in Oregon where a tense tranquility reigns on a therapeutic men’s ward until a scheming inmate of a work farm decides he would rather serve the rest of his sentence by faking mental illness and pulling easy time in the hospital. The inmate is one of American literature’s great iconic figures, Randle P. McMurphy. He represents, at best, the spirit of freedom; at worst, destructive rebelliousness. He locks horns with malevolent “Big Nurse” Ratched with varying effects on the long-time residents of the ward.
Sean Schmeits returns to the stage after four years’ absence to take on the heroic role of McMurphy, and Elizabeth Govaerts is his icy nemesis Nurse Ratched. Both are veterans of the Lincoln theater scene and anchor the tension of the piece.
The play draws heavily on the narrative presence of Native patient “Chief” Bromden as the novel did on his interior monologue. This role is played with strength by Walter J. McDowell III.
It is fortunate indeed for Lincoln that Douglass was able to bring a group of five actors she previously directed at the Lincoln Community Playhouse in her successful “Twelve Angry Men” and cast them again in “Cuckoo’s Nest.” Along with McDowell, she cast Lyn Leach as Scanlon (wonderful, with a complete vocabulary of tics and jitters that add to the general sense of constant movement in the production), Dennis Fricks as Dale Harding, Elbert Taylor as Ruckly and Randy Hawthorne as Dr. Spivey.
Others turning in notable performances are Christian Novotny as the struggling Billy Bibbit and Larry Weixelman as the hallucinating Martini.