By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
What the Bedford theater gets right that CTD didn't is the level to which the inmates take over their asylum. Set in a grubby state mental hospital day room, Cuckoo's Nest charts the changes in a group of men—"chronics, walkers and vegetables"—suffering varying levels of psychoses. Their catalyst is R.P. McMurphy (Randal Scott), a convicted rapist trying to avoid a prison work-farm by pretending to be "bull-goose loony." Or is it not an act?
From the moment he's admitted, McMurphy is under the icy gaze of Nurse Ratched (Desiree Fultz), a gorgon who goads each patient with verbal sucker punches. "What would your mother say?" is her way of knocking the stuffing out of stuttering teenager Billy Bibbitt (Nick Jones) whenever he tries standing up to the nurse's bullying.
Fountain has created an off-kilter atmosphere for this production that always feels a little dangerous, which is exciting. Occasionally, a patient wanders into the audience, mumbling and drooling, until an "orderly" finds him and escorts him back to the "ward." Fights escalate to all-out screaming bedlam. Ruckly (Ken Long), a patient who thinks he's Jesus, pees himself. And the party scene, when McMurphy sneaks two whores in after-hours, has a furtive sense of rule-breaking mischief.
The House of Blue Leaves continues through May 24 at Theatre Arlington. Call 817-261-9628.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest continues through May 23 at Onstage in Bedford. Call 817-354-6444.
Scott, hair combed into a Kevin-Spacey-as-Verbal-Kint point, rushes his dialogue and claps his hands too much, but otherwise sends off plenty of sparks as McMurphy. As his friend "Chief Broom," Daylon Walton makes his character's poetic monologues (the squishiest aspect of the stage version) into quiet moments of insight into how it must feel to be locked inside a terribly troubled mind. And Ms. Fultz keeps Nurse Ratched's syrupy malevolence on a low, and terrifying, simmer.
The secret of making Cuckoo's Nest this good, apparently, is giving the actors the freedom to go more than a little bit batshit crazy.