Erin Cassidy and Marksian Tarasiuk face off as Ratched and McMurphy in the Studio 58 production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Photo by David Cooper.
Erin Cassidy and Marksian Tarasiuk face off as Ratched and McMurphy in the Studio 58 production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Photo by David Cooper.

Want to see the next generation of Vancouver stars? You only have to look as far as the Studio 58 production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

[pullquote]Taking on the roles made famous by Jack Nicolson and Louise Fletcher in the 1975 film version, Markian Tarasiuk and Erin Cassidy needn’t have worried about any potential comparisons, as the two pay homage to these iconic performances, while solidly making the roles their own.[/pullquote]Based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, Dale Wasserman’s stage adaptation wisely moves away from the narration by “Chief” Bromden found in the book, as it tells its story of Randle P. McMurphy’s misguided attempt at trading the work farm for the loony bin. No longer viewed through the lens of Bromden, Wasserman places the focus directly on the shoulders of the irascible McMurphy and his rival, the unyielding Nurse Ratched.

In adapting Kesey’s story, the playwright also places a greater emphasis on the humour, which creates a sometimes unwelcome tension as we find ourselves laughing at the expense of the mentally ill. Of course, comedy can help in an exploration of serious issues, and as McMurphy says, “you gotta laugh at things, especially when they ain’t funny”. Director Patrick McDonald helps to mitigate our politically correct responses by keeping this production inside a time where electroshock therapy and the prefrontal lobotomy were considered at the forefront of psychiatric medicine.

Taking on the roles made famous by Jack Nicolson and Louise Fletcher in the 1975 film version, Markian Tarasiuk and Erin Cassidy needn’t have worried about any potential comparisons, as the two pay homage to these iconic performances, while solidly making the roles their own. The two are studies in contrast, with Tarasiuk maintaining a wild intensity that makes his final scene that much more tragic, while Cassidy maintains a steadfast resolve in her quest to ultimately beat down McMurphy. There is no doubt these two could easily find themselves undertaking the same roles on any professional stage.

Even as the show is a star vehicle for Tarasiuk and Cassidy, the ensemble is equally terrific. Each of the patients brings individuality to their characters that never wavers, even as they are more often than not overshadowed by the McMurphy/Ratched showdown. Particularly good here are Arash Ghorbani as the hallucinating Martini and Mike Gill as the milquetoast Dale Harding, and director McDonald could not have asked for a more perfect casting than John Cook in the role of Chief Bromden. Anais West and Kim Larson give giddy performances as the two female interlopers, and Tom Krushkowki is able to bring the disinterested Dr Spivey to life.

Members of the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Photo by David Cooper.
Members of the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Photo by David Cooper.

Pam Johnson’s set impresses even as you enter the theatre with its walls lined with the case files for each of the psychiatric hospital patients. The glass nurse’s station looms over the wide open space of the common room and the clinical nature of its drab paint evokes an oppressive feeling that any of the patients would find hard to escape. Sydney Cavanagh’s costumes are spot-on from the institutional gowns worn by the patients, to the 1960s inspired uniforms worn by the hospital staff. Ratched’s uniform is as tightly wound as the woman herself.

There is a reason that Langara College’s Studio 58 has a reputation for churning out amazing talent. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest reinforces that reputation. With its wonderful ensemble anchored by the performances from Tarasiuk and Cassidy, this is must-see theatre.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman.  Based on the novel by Ken Kesey.  Directed by Patrick McDonald.  A Studio 58 production.  On stage at Langara College’s Studio 58 until November 30.  Visit http://studio58.ca for tickets and information.

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