A View from the Cliff: “Cuckoo’s Nest” flies high at RTC

The overpowering story of abuse in 1960s psychiatric facilities spawned the universally lauded “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” To perform this very complicated and poignant drama requires unusual skill. The Rockaway Theatre Company is currently playing to packed houses and standing ovations.

At Saturday afternoon’s show, one of the strongest interpretations presented on local stages mesmerized the audience and led to thunderous applause. John Stillwaggon as the central protagonist, “Mack” McMurphy earned the bulk of this much warranted praise. From the moment he burst on the stage, he filled the character’s shoes with much more than just the requisite, complex emotions.

The hospital dayroom (Frank Caiati, Set Design) is meticulously detailed. The stifling smells and suffocating discipline are palpable. The in-patients dressed in bathrobes and slippers reflect their unenlightened treatment. Local favorite David Risley plays voluntarily hospitalized Dale Harding. Tormented Billy Bibbit (Frank Caiati) and “the Chief” (Jose Velez) also play pivotal roles. Eerie lighting and ominous echoes reveal the chief’s serious emotional confusion.

The vindictive, controlling Nurse Ratched tries to dominate Mac. But is she really successful? Lynda Browning is outstanding in this challenging role. Kudos to the “curable” and “chronic” denizens of the dayroom including staff– Robert Press, Cliff Hesse/John Gilleece, John Panepinto, Joseph Hagopian, Andrew Guzman, Adam Davis, Danielle Rose Fisher/Ale Guzman, Geoff Rawling, Daniel Velez, Matthew Smilardi, Norman Scott and Thomas J. Kane.

The war of wills between Mack and Nurse Ratched unfolds in a locked and barred hospital. The actors have done their jobs if we, the audience, understand that this conflict also unfolds, if more subtly disguised in our daily, “normal” lives. Kudos to Directors Michael Wotypka, Peggy Page and Producer Susan Jasper. Some kind-hearted working girls named Candy and Sandy (Jessica Mintzes, Bianca Ambrosio) add depth to Mack’s world view. The RTC Children’s Theatre Workshop sing the nursery rhyme with the line “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”

For information on this and future top quality productions call RTC’s hotline at 718-374-6400, surf to www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org or like them on Facebook. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.

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