A SCENE from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST
By Dale Wasserman
From the book by Ken Kesey
Translated by Ilan Ronen
Directed by Omri Nitzan
Cameri Theater, February 25
To paraphrase Dickens, Cuckoo’s Nest is wonderful, Cuckoo’s Nest is dreadful.
Wonderful, because director Omri Nitzan and his actors have avoided sentimentality to dig unflinchingly into the dark underbelly of mental illness, save for the (necessarily) mawkish ending, which is not their fault.
Dreadful, because Cuckoo’s Nest is an indictment of the human race that gives no quarter; it doesn’t allow us to wriggle off the hook as Nitzan’s chilling opening set to the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – and which ends with a looming mushroom cloud – amply demonstrates. The play is an allegory, with the psychiatric hospital and its inmates as a microcosm of the world we live in.
The story concerns Randle McMurphy (Oz Zehavi), a pugnacious, charismatic, non-conformist petty criminal who is sent to the state psychiatric hospital for evaluation. There he comes into contact not only with a motley crew of voluntary and involuntary inmates whose overriding characteristic is fear, but with the manipulative and sadistic Nurse Ratched (Ola Shur-Selektar). The ultimately fatal conflict that develops between the two drives the events of the play.
On her side, Ratched (an interesting combination of “ratchet” and “wretched”) has and exploits the power of The System. On his side, “Mac” (though definitely no angel), has an innate compassion and an irrepressible lust for life. He doesn’t stand a chance – poor sap!
Let’s face it. Despite the relatively enormous strides we have made in treatment of mental illness, we still understand only a very little about it. If we are to be honest, we flinch from it and would rather not have to face it, let alone deal with it. The mentally ill themselves are still subject to comprehensive abuse, and if they complain, “Who’s gonna believe them? They’re nuts, right?”
These attitudes/ignorances are what Cuckoo’s Nest addresses.
Zehavi makes a persuasive, engaging McMurphy, out to get his, to get the best of things and people, but not oblivious to the nuances he finds at the hospital. And it’s Shur-Selektar’s unyielding body-language – the small vain touches to her person, the refusal to crank out a stereotype – that make her Ratched so compelling. Top marks, too, go to Ruthie Asarsay for her loose-limbed, uninhibited, unselfconscious Candy – one of her best performances yet – while Mia Landesman riotously cameos as Sandra.
Cameri stalwarts Ohad Shahar as Harding, Yitzhak Hiskiya as Scanlon, Ezra Dagan as Martini, and Uri Ravitz as Ruckly, lean hard on their roles, making each an individual who we know is leaving so much more unsaid. Except that Ruckly – basically a zombie – never says a word. Eran Sarel’s anguished Chief tears at the heartstrings, and Moti Katz imbues loud-mouth Cheswick with a humor that would be funny if it weren’t so despairing. As Billy, Shlomi Avraham skillfully manages to be absent most of the time, until he isn’t, and your heart about cracks.
Adam Keller’s functional set and sad-sack costuming allow no illusions; neither does the music which unrelentingly bids Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hello darkness my old friend” amid the hard-hitting rest.
Cuckoo’s Nest is not fun. It’s hard, it’s necessary – and why, you have to ask yourselves, are we watching this “J’accuse” in the Israel of today?
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