Patrons are crazy for “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest,” performed in the Biltmore Studio at The Village Theatre in Canton Michigan. The show was sold out even before it opened. In order to satisfy the public’s hunger to see this show, Evalino Productions added a matinee performance on Saturday to try to satisfy the insane demand for tickets. Ever since John Sartor announced the formation of Evalino Productions in January of this year, patrons, actors and sponsors came running to become a part of this Michigan non-profit organization. Considered the best director for community theatre in Michigan, Sartor’s reputation for excellence was a guaranteed win for the public.
Saturday’s matinee was phenomenal. As a critic, I try to refrain from all behavior when attending a performance. Like Simon Cowell, I hold back. I don’t clap at the end of a performance or give away my reaction before the review comes out in print. When Brian Paul came out to take a bow, not only did I give exuberant applause, I also gave him a standing ovation. Brian Paul gave the performance of a lifetime as Randle P. McMurphy, the psychopath who disrupts order at the psychiatric hospital.
That’s what psychopaths do – they disrupt anything and everything to get their way, and have no conscience to guide them.
I have learned from years’ experience that when I search the playbill while lights are dark, intrigued who plays a particular character, ultimately discovering I already know the person … that actor has done the perfect job – he suspended my belief. I didn’t know who Randle P. McMurphy was until I got out the playbill. I have met Brian Paul before and I did not realize it was him behind the character. A change in uniform, makeup, and thug cap, combined with stellar acting skills completely threw me off track.
I was highly impressed by the character of Chief Bromden played by Wyatt R Woodside. For several years I was the host of a television show called “Native American Magazine” and we brought native Americans into the studio to interview them about cultural events. I was also a government interpreter while I was in college, and I listen very closely to accents. Woodside had the native American speech and tone down pat. I give him a lot of credit, because I am not able to do voice impressions; I find it a very rare talent.
Becky Paul was excellent in the silent role of Nurse Flinn. She was able to perform the role using only body language – especially her eyes. Her eyes told the entire story without having to utter a word. She reminded me how the talented Vivien Leigh was able to do the same thing in “Gone with the Wind.” She was brilliant.
Another fantastic actor is Mark Koesel He was also played silent character. I didn’t recognize him as the Marine from one of John Sartor’s previous plays. When he came near me, it gave me the creeps, and I knew it was just a play, but again, he looked like there was a demon lurking behind those eyes. McMurphy was kind of a bad boy in a seductive, macho way, but Ruckley actually looked dangerous.
My take on the story is the opposite of what most people think. I didn’t think Nurse Ratched (Nurse “Wretched” ? ), played magnificently by Emily Jane Smith, was all that evil. My sister has been a nurse for 30 something years, and part of her career was as a psychiatric nurse. She wouldn’t put up with any of that crap from any patient. I saw Ratched as mostly just doing her job. After McMurphy attacked her, I don’t blame her for having him lobotomized; I’d do the exact same thing if I were in her shoes. Call me a heathen, but like the song goes, “I do not forgive and I do not forget.”
Skyler Baty plays Billy, the young virgin child. Most people despise Ratched for harping on him about his mother’s expectations. I have to side with Ratched on this one. If Billy was my son I’d be deporting a pair of sleazy cupid stunts to a harem in the Middle East without their consent, if I caught them touching him. Sleazy cupid stunts played exquisitely by Mary Hopper and Cindy Franklin. Don’t get me wrong, I know that Jesus taught us to show compassion toward painted ladies, but there’s also the part about protecting children, and I saw Billy as an innocent child on the inside, despite his chronological age. Likewise, Matt Raybaud had that childlike innocence – it really helped reinforce the idea of protecting people whose minds were broken.
The story’s critique of the mental ward as an instrument of oppression, comparable to the prison, mirrors many of the claims that French intellectual Michel Foucault was making at the same time the novel came out. Similarly, Foucault argued that invisible forms of discipline oppressed individuals on a broad societal scale, encouraging them to censor aspects of themselves and their actions. I think Foucault is full of shit. Subversives always like to run to Foucault to justify their behavior, but I will stand behind Noam Chomsky to the death.
Enough of my waxing philosophical. The cast worked magic together. There was a chemistry that showed itself on stage; and fortunately the Biltmore Studio is an excellent venue for such a compelling drama.
Evalino Productions, a Michigan non-profit corporation, will soon be announcing dates for next summer’s workshops, which include The Audition Process, Scene/Character Work and an Improv Workshop – all taught by professionally educated instructors. Recently, the organization created an audition workshop – which included a professionally recorded/mixed “Agent Ready” video for the students at Plymouth Rock Studios in Plymouth, Michigan. It filled to capacity in two days. John Sartor and assistant director Rebecca Paul are in high demand for their amazing skills.
Chief Bromden – Wyatt R Woodside
Aide Warren – John Thiede
Aide Williams – Eric Thornburg
Nurse Ratched – Emily Jane Smith
Nurse Flinn – Melissa Koesel & Becky Paul
Dale Harding – Jay Fischer
Billy Bibbit – Skyler Baty
Scanlon – Kyle Tillman
Cheswick – Ryan Splan
Martini – Matt Raybaud
Ruckley – Mark Koesel
Randle P. McMurphy – Brian Paul
Dr. Spivey – Jim Hand
Aide Turkle – Dennis Farmer
Candy Starr – Mary Hopper
Sandra – Cindy Franklin
Nurse – Gerri Anne Carney
Photos courtesy of Evalino Productions, Inc. and Skyler Baty