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review of Cuckoo's Nest

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review of Cuckoo's Nest

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Last night, anarchist_nomad, cheshcat, gyades, cassiopia and I went to the Wheaton community theatre for a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

We have been there before - we had gone to the Wheaton Drama Club, or whatever it's called, several months ago to see You Can't Take It With You.

The acting and production values of that show were completely typical of community theatre, in my estimation: the set more minimalistic than the story could really support; some fairly poor accent work (and that show contains several caricatures who are largely centered in their accents, so they really ought to be good ones); the actors displaying beginner's errors (in stance, in diction, in hand movement) that showed that A) they were either relatively inexperienced or not very good actors and B) the director was either too weak to correct them or too unobservant to see those issues that needed work (or else the director was GREAT and had transformed hideous actors into barely adequate ones!); vital character aspects that were highly underdeveloped - the daughter who wants to be a dancer should be a BAD dancer attempting to work at a professional level, not just a girl sort of flouncing around in dance gear.

And there you have a typically harsh review of community theatre by a former college theatre person (at this point, I've been away so long that I'd probably make most of those mistakes myself if I tried to do anything theatrical). All that being said, the show itself was enjoyable (especially due to the adorable portrayal of the grandfather) and perfectly suited to the milieu. It was well done for what it was - low rent community theatre. I have simply been spoiled lately by going to see productions at U. Chicago. They did a fantastic job with both Travesties and Man of La Mancha, and Beckett's Endgame, though horrible to watch*, was executed beautifully - ultimately, that show was a great exhibition of various skills to produce an end product that we happened to hate. The difference between those shows and the first production I saw at Wheaton Drama is the difference between students who are hoping and training to do this for a living and people who are doing this as a hobby. When the school in question is large and has a decent theatre program, with the attendant unnaturally engorged talent pool from which to draw, the difference in degree between their shows and the shows that are put on by locals for free in their spare time can be huge, and is not really a fair comparison at all. That's the grain of salt that always needs to accompany reviews of community theatre.

To get back to the show in question now, though, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest did not match the level of quality of You Can't Take It With You. It massively and pleasingly surpassed it, manyfold.

Culturally, Ken Kesey's novel has been completely overshadowed by the movie version, most notably by the performance of Jack Nicholson as R. P. McMurphy. I have heard the complaint, of this and other movies, that once you have seen it, your mind's eye view is spoiled - that you can only ever see Nicholson's MacMurphy after you have watched the film, and your own imagination is supplanted. The mental face replacement never bothers me, as I don't really visualize that much, and don't tend to create faces for the characters - my inner eye needs bifocals - but the issue really isn't just about the face, or shouldn't be; it should be about the whole portrayal.

It's an especially tricky issue with a show such as this one. While one could argue that several of the characters are focal in different ways (such as that Billy Bibbitt is the clear emotional hook of the story), structurally speaking, MacMurphy is not only the protagonist (though an argument could be made for the Chief) but the focus through which we see the rest of the characters and the scene itself. His role in this story is catalytic, and his effect is as important as himself, if not more so. That being the case, the portrayal of MacMurphy has much more power to shape the entire show than even main characters usually do.

I would think that, as an actor, trying to play the role of MacMurphy subsequent to Nicholson would be intimidating as all heck. The actor who took on the task in this particular show did an outstanding job of it, and if he felt intimidated in the slightest, it was completely hidden. He was fearless, he was larger than life, he was guts and glory both.

I want to complete this review, but the gang is about to head out for the museum, and I don't have any more time. Doubt that too many are interested anyway. :)

Hope to finish later; if so, it will replace these two paragraps.

* I personally think that while the dialogue of Waiting for Godot has some interesting aspects, Beckett, on the whole, has, with his body of work, had the entire theatre-going world successfully foxed for decades, and that absurdism is for the most part a massive case of Emperor's New Clothes syndrome, in which people say that it's great because they think that everyone else thinks it's great and that admitting their dislike will expose them as the uncultured newbies that they are.
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