Advertisement
  1. Stage

Freefall Theatre's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' a devastating ride

Published Aug. 4, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — There's a moment in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that will make your heart rate speed, make your fingers curl around the arms of the chair, and you won't know exactly why.

Then you'll realize that the mammoth and silent Chief Bromden has been standing over the room like some kind of prehistoric monument while the other characters ping dialogue, swishing his broom slowly, then faster, faster, swish, swish, swish across the dusty floor. Then as the talking stops, the swishing stops.

There are moments when you aren't breathing.

Get ready to be emotionally devastated, everyone. Cuckoo's Nest at Freefall Theatre is a triumph of tension, acted with swagger, humor and crushing purpose.

Director Eric Davis has staged Dale Wasserman's adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel immersively. The audience sits in the mental institution among the patients. They perch on vinyl cream couches, on orange stacking chairs, on velvet arm chairs. Some even settle on a concrete ledge inches from where Rick Stutzel plays the lobotomized Ruckly, hanging like a crucified Jesus Christ.

There isn't really a bad seat in the house, but get there early to pick. Freefall opens the door first to subscribers as a perk, then to everyone else. You could end up wedged in the back, and while it won't make the experience bad, it's more fun to be front and center.

It takes a minute to get acclimated. There's a punching bag in one corner, a nurse's station in another, a round card table in another, a raised platform in the middle. The action unfolds throughout the room, so even if you think you're facing backward, don't worry. It'll make sense.

The set by Steve Mitchell is absolutely professional, with windows that seem to open into the night, boiler rooms and bathrooms on the fringes. The lighting by Mike Wood is essential, whether it's flickering overhead fluorescents casting a wan sickness, or flashing reds when one patient flies into an episode of post traumatic stress disorder.

The cast of 16 is fully committed (no pun intended, really). A thunderstorm blew outside during Sunday's performance and Greyson Lewis, who plays the tragic Billy Bibbitt, shook and shuddered when the thunder cracked.

Michael Nichols brings heartbreaking tenderness to Chief Bromden. It may help that he played Chief Bromden's understudy in the 2001 Broadway revival of Cuckoo's Nest starring Gary Sinise. His eyes are hollow until they are not, and if you're close enough to catch those flickers, it's electric. Bromden is huge, but he is small.

Roxanne Fay is super scary as the scariest nurse of all time, Nurse Ratched. During rehearsals, Fay described her approach to Ratched as wrought through "very full silences," and she is right. Ratched is small, but she is huge.

James Oliver as Randle P. McMurphy is the show's lifeblood. Oliver, a 1970s film buff who has seen the Jack Nicholson performance over and over, was able to cast aside what he knew of the film and create something fresh. His McMurphy is brash roustabout, a cowboy shooting up a slick city where rigid order reigns. His energy never flags.

After some time cutting up with the guys in the ward, intermission comes, and the sense of doom starts to set in. This is classic literature. If you're even half-familiar with the story, you know what's coming. It's beautiful in many ways, but it ain't pretty.

A truly great retelling of a classic has you praying it can still be different. Maybe you remembered it wrong. Maybe things can change. In the end, that's the enduring message of Cuckoo's Nest that makes it important in 2014, makes placing the audience in the story significant.

Change is always up to you.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Demetri Martin will perform at Tampa Theatre on Jan. 18. [Courtesy of the Tampa Theatre]
    'A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ and ambitious Florida Orchestra collaborations round out the list.
  2. Ira Glass will appear at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Jan. 25. [Courtesy of Sandy Honig]
    The host of ‘This American Life’ brings stories from his years on the air to St. Petersburg on Jan. 25.
  3. "Sunset Baby" stars, from left, Aris Rogers II as Damon, Kelli Vonshay as Nina Shakur and Darren Constantine as Kenyatta Shakur. [Courtesy of the Heather Theatre]
    An activist tries to reconnect with his daughter after prison. But did “revolution” cost him his family? | Review
  4. These undated photos show William "Bill" Holley in costume during his thriving career as an opera singer in Europe from 1961 to 1984. After that, he retired to Plant City, where he never really performed opera, only singing in church and at weddings for friends and family. He died Dec. 28, 2019, at age 89. [Courtesy of Candy Greene]
    Before his quiet life of rural retirement, the Panhandle native performed in some of Europe’s most vaunted opera houses.
  5. Drumline Live will high-step through the Straz Center in Tampa on Jan. 14. [Courtesy of the Straz Center]
    Comic Matt Braunger at Side Splitters and a Duke Ellington tribute by the Florida Orchestra, too.
  6. Mike Tyson announces "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," a one-man show on Broadway, in New York in 2012. [EVAN AGOSTINI  |  Invision/AP]
    The boxing legend and his ‘Undisputed Truth: Round 2’ will hit the Hard Rock Event Center in April.
  7. The National Theatre Ballet of Odessa, Ukraine, will present "Romeo and Juliet" at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Jan. 5. [Courtesy of the Mahaffey Theater]
    Plus, Illusionist Ivan Amodei and the Florida Orchestra.
  8. Jim Gaffigan will perform at Tampa's Yuengling Center on Dec. 31. [Courtesy of Robyn Von Swank]
    Say hello to 2020 with Moscow Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker,’ comedy shows and more.
  9. Kaenaonalani Kekoa (Jasmine) and Jonah Ho'okano (Aladdin) in the Straz Center's production of "Aladdin" in Tampa. [Disney]
    The Disney musical will win you over, thanks to imaginative effects and a couple of lively stars at the center.
  10. The touring production of "Hamilton" came to Tampa's Straz Center from Feb. 12 to March 10. [Courtesy of Joan Marcus]
    Great theater and orchestral works happened all over town this year. Here are some of our favorites.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement