“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – Theater Works

This review aired on KBAQ April 6, 2015


Theater Works, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts
Peoria, AZ

Dale Wasserman’s play “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on Ken Kesey’s novel about institutionalized psychopaths, is one of the biggest dramatic challenges awaiting any community theater.  Peoria’s Theater Works presents a solid if not perfect production because of strong performances in the two leading roles that helps distinguish this production.  The rest of the acting ensemble struggles to deliver distinctive interpretations of the other patients.

Essaying the major roles are two stalwart local professional performers with impressive acting credentials.  Cathy Dresbach takes a different but successful approach to power hungry Nurse Ratched while Matt Zimmerer assumes the expected bombastic approach and lusty bravado long associated with patient Randle P. McMurphy.

Dresbach presents a less intense Nurse Ratched than usual but Dresbach instills the Nurse with a maniacal evilness as she establishes her rule over the ward.  Her battles with patient McMurphy to keep control are vicious struggles that she wins when a lobotomized McMurphy becomes a docile imbecile.

Zimmerer’s McMurphy starts out as a defiant know-it-all who is determined to take charge and override Nurse Ratched.  At times he almost wins and Zimmerer convinces us that he has the determination to succeed.  Of course he loses the unwinnable battle but the sparing dynamic between Dresbach and Zimmerer keeps audiences on edge even if the play’s outcome is already known.

It’s the supporting cast that fails to get below the superficial surfaces of their characters because they lack the finely tuned acting chops to make each patient different and unique.  Here, the characters blend together as they become an amazingly passive bunch of losers.  When the script moves away from the Ratched/McMurphy fight, the Ben Tyler directed production sputters on and on with endless chatter that doesn’t keep the audience engaged.

The production is staged with audience on either side of the action but the production concept yearns more for a more conventional thrust staging concept where the Nurses station could be better centered.

That Theater Works attracted two professional performers to the lead roles of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” says something about the talent now available to the theater.  That the supporting cast doesn’t bring the same exemplary acting hurts the production.  It continues through April 19.  For tickets, call the Theater Works box office at 623-815-7930 or order tickets online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: C