by Dale Wasserman

Midtown Theatre

Charleston, South Carolina

October 1999

Midtown’s Cuckoo Better Than The Movie


Charleston City Paper - October 1999

..The movie, granted, was incredible. But it’s like apples and oranges. Where the movie was realistic, the play is surreal at times. And a stage version allows you to sample different interpertations of the characters: Robin Shuler and Rob Duren, as Nurse Ratched and Randle P. McMurphy respectively, dare to be different and offer some of the finest performances in Charleston yet this year.

Overall, the piece is woven by a most thoughtful, artsy director, Steve Lepre, who has a great knack for the stage. This production feels more akin to America’s leading experimental theatres like the Wooster Group than with Hollywood.

The play takes place in a state-run mental hospital. It details the confrontation between the domineering Ratched and the free-spirited McMurphy. That’s it. Yet with these two characters, we have an onslaught of symbolic import. The play is “about” authoritarianism vs. freedom, this time in a modern, medical setting.

Shuler and Duren are incredible. Shuler recreates Ratched more sadistcally than I remember the character to be, but it works just as well. As she considers electroshock therapy or a lobotomy, she sounds ever so polite; her kindly favors couldn’t possibly be threats to murder you.

Duren matches Shuler to create quite a dramatic dynamic duo for us. His McMurphy is less the smart-ass Nicholson and more like his Psycho Beach Party character, the beach-(dharma)-bum. His incessant laughing is a dude-like laugh. He is a smart likeable guy. In a way, one feels more sympathy with his character than with Nicholson’s.

Tim Young does a fine job with Chief Bromden...narrating us through the more surreal scenes, the best being when the awesome set of caged fences and Plexiglas turns into a slide-show battlefield, linking the patients to war and to the emotions of being unable “to help a man down.”

Bradley Keith plays Dale Harding with a hysterical dance of the hands. Doug Dowdy and Brian Hedden play Scanlon and Cheswick like Dennis Hopper and Paul Allen on LSD. Jennifer Croker-Pool returns to the Midtown, although playing in Candy, she shows she can be funny and sexy as well as geeky. Samantha Andrews returns to the ditzy role - which she does very well - as she plays Candy’s boozy side-kick Sandra. And Scott Adams, only a high school junior, does excellent work with the tragically fearful Bill Bibbit. I don’t have space for all the acting; there were 17 parts in all!

The real star of the piece is the director himself, Steve Lepre. His hand is everywhere. Lepre takes every advantage of the fact that this is live theatre, masterfully exploiting every performance element he can.

There is careful attention to all details. Before the play even starts, you are reading an interesting program that says “The Time - Then,” and listen to Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. Even the curtain call is artistic, with the cast doing a powerful and emotional rendition of Frank’s My Way right in your face. In Nurse Ratched’s world, patient Ruckley’s, “Fuck ‘em all!” isn’t as “deranged” as we are initially made to believe. The play is a siren screaming, “question authority.” It is a masterpiece of human liberty.



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