One of the reasons why I love living near Los Angeles is because of the amount of different immersive and theatrical performances that I get to attend. Recently I had the opportunity to check out After Hours Theater Company’s ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST – a perfect blend of immersion and theatrics adapted by Dale Wasserman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey.
For those not familiar with either the book or the film, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST centers around Randle Patrick McMurphy who gets transferred to the Oregon Psychiatric Hospital for rehabilitation. Now remember, this is the 60’s, so someone that exhibits signs of an overly active sex drive or homosexual tendencies could easily be locked up and deemed mentally unfit. While there, McMurphy comes face-to-face with Nurse Ratched, a no-nonsense woman who runs the ward with a heavy hand and a firm grip. To keep her patients in line she routinely threatens them with abuse, specifically that of electroconvulsive therapy. When McMurphy decides to go up against Nurse Ratched, it leaves the ward shaken to its core with long lasting consequences.
Having been familiar with the film, I was looking forward to seeing how After Hours Theater would turn this iconic story into a 3 hour experience. When my guest and I arrived, we were given a form to fill out and told to wait in line where we were separated into two groups: Acute and Chronic Patients. Since my guest and I were Acute Patients we were given special attire to separate ourselves from the other patients checking into the Oregon State Hospital.
It’s at this moment when I realized we have been transported back to 1963 and are given special names that coincide with characters in the story. When we arrived into the main room I was blown away by the design of the space as well as the spectacle put on by the characters at hand. It took me a few minutes to steady myself and take everything in but once I had a grasp on what was going on I was fully dedicated to all that was about to unfold. Standing before me was a bevy of inmates interacting with guests while simultaneously trying to sidestep the nurses who were responsible for handing out medication.
While we waited for the main production to begin, my guest and I sat at a table and played Go Fish for secrets, because gambling for monetary value was against the rules. Just as we finished up it was announced that we should take our seats. The Acute patients had the opportunity to sit on the stage where the characters would routinely interact with them throughout the production whereas the Chronic patients sat in more traditional theater seating around the stage. I thought this was a brilliant way in helping to bridge the gap between traditional theater and immersive while still allowing those who aren’t as familiar with immersive to hang back and see how everything played out.
As for the show itself, I was enthralled with what transpired – from the acting, to the set design, to the interaction with the audience, and everything in-between. Director Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx did a fantastic job of bringing Dale Wasserman’s adaptation to life while completely immersing the audience. Though it was hard for me to see the character of Randle Patrick McMurphy as anything other than Jack Nicholson’s portrayal, Mick Torres did a phenomenal job of incorporating his own touch into the role. As for the role of Nurse Ratched, Courtney Llyod nailed it with a quiet ferocity that would make anyone think twice before overstepping the rules. As for the rest of the cast, they were just as wonderful and charismatic as one would imagine a “mental patient” to be in this setting.
Though the end of the performance ends on a sad, sour note, I think it’s important to note that there is some hope interwoven throughout. Without giving away too much, McMurphy’s presence shakes up the patients in a positive, self discovery, sort of way. He reminds them that they should be accepted for who they are, no matter what anyone says, especially Nurse Ratched. For all that McMurphy claims to have done, his heart is in the right place and that shines throughout the entire production.
Overall, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST is an absolute must-see. It’s perfect for people who want to dip their toe into immersive while still catering to those who are more seasoned. In terms of a theatrical performance, this was top notch in both the acting and execution of the production, allowing the audience to feel as though they are part of the show without having too much of a spotlight on them. With a limited engagement, running only until July 1st, you would be crazy (no pun intended) not to check out ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. Tickets range from $55 for Chronic Patients and $75 for Acute Patients and can be purchased at www.CuckoosnestLA.com.