Thursday, November 19, 2015

Memo From the RTC: Flying Over the Cuckoo Nest

Photo credit: Danielle Rose Fisher/John Panepinto

The Wave for publication November 20, 2015

Memo From the RTC: Flying Over the Cuckoo Nest
By Norm Scott

The epic struggle between Nurse Ratched and Randle McMurphy played out in the novel, movie and play of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has become legendary in all 3 mediums. There are so many themes and strands, the audience of all three almost sold out performances leaves not only with thoughts that they saw a another great production from the RTC but also “what did it all mean?”

Lynda Browning playing Ratched, was thrilled when she was booed by all three audiences last weekend when she took her bows. She had done an amazing job as an actress. Meanwhile womanizer, gambler and foulmouthed wild man and rebel McMurphy, played by the remarkable John Stillwaggon, turned into a Christ-like figure, gets rabid cheers and a standing ovation. Clearly, we know where the sympathy of the audience lies. Going to the theater is not all “let’s sit back and enjoy without dwelling on the issues being put on the table and a play that forces the audience (and the cast) to think deeply about the range of these issues takes theater to another level.

Near the end the audience is laughing at watching the inmates having a fun party set up by McMurphy. For a brief time in their lives, McMurphy has helped free them from feeling trapped by their illness. We know it won’t last but even though I’ve been through weeks of daily rehearsals I still find myself hoping.

Even the actors backstage are often talking about these issues. Why did he do that? Why didn’t McMurphy just leave when he had the chance? Once I am done with my lines as the doctor I go to the back of the audience and watch the ending and I want to scream – LEAVE. But Stillwaggon puts his arms out wide (looking like a cross) and it is clear that he won’t. He has gone from rugged individualist to someone who now takes responsibility for the others. The inmates who had been deep into their own personal miseries and were attacking each other before he came, are now a team truly working to help each other “restore each other to the outside” – one of my lines - and pompous lies - as the inept doctor. Obviously the people running the asylum had clearly been failing at curing anyone and in fact had made them worse.

Why did the RTC do a play they already did a decade ago? I got to watch a DVD of the RTC production from 10 years ago and the production levels of the RTC in terms of sets and lighting and sound has grown a hundred-fold to the point that RTC is capable of producing Broadway quality shows. Way beyond community theater. The contrast from the 2005 version is stark. Many people commented on the realism of the set designed by Frank Caiati (who played/plays Billy in both versions) and executed by Tony Homsey. One 5-year old commented: Is this a hospital?

Of course if you haven’t seen it, this weekend is the final chance – until 10 years from now. Friday, Saturday at 8PM and Sunday matinee at 2PM. Check the hotline 718-374-6400 as demand is high.

Note on RTC Patron Noni Ostrow Signoretti
Many people in the Rockaway community are almost speechless at finding out Noni had died of cancer at such a young age. My last memory of her at Brown’s hardware was behind the counter on early Sunday morning the day before Sandy as people lined up to get supplies. She never came back to Brown’s after the storm and moved to California. But we got to see her when she came back when Hayden was in shows on Broadway and we saw her in August when she gave us a backstage tour. We had no idea that she could be gone just a few months later. RTC had a special place in her heart and at her overflowing memorial last Sunday it was revealed that she requested all donations go to RTC. The show is dedicated to Noni and as the program says: “A dear friend and devoted member of the RTC. She is mourned by the entire Rockaway community. Like the content of this play, her untimely death is both tragic and surreal.”

Next time Norm will try to make the case for Nurse Ratched, which may be a harder sell than Johnny Cochran made for OJ Simpson.

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