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Cappies: Maplewood-Richmond Heights bring 'Cuckoo's Nest' to life

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 6, 2013 - On Friday night, a small but dynamic hospital from the 1950s was brought to modern-day St. Louis. The audience experienced a story of a jovial, charismatic man who is admitted to a psychiatric ward per a court’s orders. Even with the unpleasant nature of the end of the story, the actors and technicians of Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School made “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” an enjoyable evening.

This 1963 stage adaption of the 1962 novel written by Ken Kesey won the Tony award for Best Revival in 2001 for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning five: best actress, best lead actor, best director, writing adapted screenplay and best picture. The film remains at number 20 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list.

The main character in this moving portrayal of the psychiatric ward of a mental hospital in Salem, Ore., was Randle P. McMurphy. Miguel Hernandez perfectly portrayed this character with flawless, intense energy, a believable snarky delivery, and an overall loveable style. His body language was consistent and realistic. Nurse Ratched is the strict, cold nurse who is in charge of the ward. Anna Wermuth acted the dry role with a nice contrast to the charismatic opposing characters.

The supporting cast members shone as they portrayed mental patients with various illnesses. The loveable and shy Billy Bibbit was portrayed by Zach Arias with an appropriate amount of bashfulness and discomfort. The audience was swept away by his apparent change and later suicide. Ben Speed truly excelled at his role of Cheswick. His body language was realistic, and the way he kept his head down created a certain stage presence that stood out from the other characters.

John O’Keefe exceptionally delivered the role of Martini, captivating the audience with his convincing mannerisms and reactions to on-stage events. Even the chronic patients (Maxx Diebold, Brandon Mosely and Ethan Powell) phenomenally executed the difficult task of staying in character at all times on the stage.

This production, however, was not simply an actor-driven show. The technical aspects of set, lighting, and sound were equally important. The set (James Owens) was beautiful.The practicality of every item on the stage put the audience directly into the scene with the patients. Another noteworthy feature of the set was the nurse’s station upstage. The glass sliding door and windows impressively imitated that of a true hospital. The sound (Paul Meuser), though not complicated, was generally effective and not distracting to the show. The light fixtures hanging from the ceiling added to the atmosphere, and the use of dramatic lighting, especially during Chief Bromden’s scenes, was effective.

Some of the cast could maybe have used more facial expressions and reactions to the on-stage events. A few lines were dropped in the first act because of hurried delivery, but overall the play was heard. Many of the blackouts between scenes were extremely long, even with very few apparent set changes. This disrupted the energy and mood from the scene before, making the play seem choppy.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School was an excellent representation of the tragedies and mistreatments that often occurred in mental hospitals in the 1950s. The experience was eye-opening for newcomers and adored by viewers familiar with the story. The night was one to remember.

Kari Leigh Brinkley is a student at Holt High School. The Cappies program works with students who review high school theatrical productions.

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