You know that ‘equal amounts of excitement and trepidation’ feeling when one of your favorite books gets turned into a movie? I had that at The Ottawa Little Theater recently and am pleased to report I left smiling. This was the best show I’ve ever seen at the OLT and I implore you to get tickets immediately.
Since being forced to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school English class, it has been one of my favorites. The American classic follows conniving convict R. P. McMurphy’s stint in a mental institution where he meets the men who live in the shadows of mental illness – and under the oppression of the ward staff. The exacting authoritarian Nurse Ratchet runs the show with sadistic, strict regimes that even the head doctor is too scared to protest against.
McMurphy’s goal is ostensibly to get under the nurse’s skin and end her administration, but his underlying purpose is to return a sense of dignity to the men around him. It’s this message that stole my heart and had me worried about the recent production since it’s a big request for any company to fulfill.
I needn’t have worried. The Ottawa Little Theater had me floored with the quality of this show. Jon Payne shone as McMurphy, a brass, magnetic, outgoing gambler whose sensitivity and unwavering dedication to his fellow man propels the narrative. Linda Webster was his perfect foil, playing a cool and utterly sinister Nurse “Rat-Shit”. Sandy Wynne’s turn as McMurphy’s girlfriend, Candy Starr, was colorful, entertaining, and sincere.
But what impressed me the most was the core group of actors playing patients: it’s tricky to portray characters with psychological issues well and these men were outstanding. They were convincing, complex, and loveable with just the right amount of tragedy. Allan MacDonald was great as the solid, semi-sane leader of the group and J. Taylor Morris’ final scene as the stuttering Billy Bibbit was especially powerful.
My companion remarked that this was the quickest I’ve ever stood for an ovation. Leaving the theater, I heard one audience member say she couldn’t take her eyes off the stage. But what spoke volumes was the silence – not a single cough or candy wrapper – during the climactic final scene. That, my friends, is theater gold.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Have you seen the film version of this show – how did OLT’s production live up to your expectations? Is “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on the Ontario curriculum – did you read it in school? Did you love the show as much as I did? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is presented by The Ottawa Little Theater. It runs now through March 12th at the OLT. Visit their show page for show times and to purchase tickets.