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A rebel with a cause. In Ken Kesey's novel and its younger sibling, the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke, evil triumphs, but something's gained from the struggle.

Randle P. McMurphy could out-con cons, fool old foolers. Imprisoned for a charge of statutory rape (he swears "she looked 17"), he fakes insanity to avoid work duty and becomes institutionalized. He joins the Acutes (curable patients who could leave any time) and the Chronics (incurable). Nurse Ratched made the diagnoses, including the one to lobotomize Ruckly, former hell-raiser leaning against a wall as if crucified.

McMurphy nominates himself as the ward's entertainment committee. He also bets he can conquer Nurse Ratched and the tyranny she represents — in the institution and the world at large.

Good luck with that, Randle P.

New Village Arts is staging one of its best shows in some time. With some tweaking, it could be even better.

Dale Wasserman's theatrical adaptation tries to cram an entire novel into two-and-a-half hours on a stage. It runs long. NVA could pick up the pace in the scene changes and also if Brian Abraham sped up. He gives Chief Bromden an impressive mystical solemnity, but makes every move, and speech, in slow motion. Lulls result.

They become pronounced because director Claudio Raygoza peoples his first-rate scenic design - the Day Room at the hospital - with sharply drawn inmates and crisp ensemble scenes. Each actor's a mini-world: Justin Lang (Harding, closeted gay), Tim West (in top form as the manic coward Cheswick), Eddie Yaroch (a ticking time bomb), Max Macke (a gaggle of jerks and twitches), and Kyle Lucy (Billy Bibbit, emotionally shriveled, mother dominated; the story has an ongoing paranoia about mothers).

Louise Fletcher won an Academy Award for her fuming Nurse Ratched in the 1975 movie. But in the novel and Wasserman's script, Ratched isn't overtly monstrous. The book's about unseen repression: institutionalized controls in daily live that force people to censor themselves (Ratched. calls the inmates a "democracy," for example; it isn't). As Ratched, Kristianne Kurmer smartly pulls back from the grotesque.

As in Cool Hand Luke, Kesey loads his story with sacrificial lamb, Christ symbolism (Ruckly's crucifixion, McMurphy asking for a crown of thorns). What was hip in the 60s now reads like "in case you didn't get it," overexplanation.

From his first, raucous entrance to his mute, deeply moving finale, Jeffrey Jones is excellent as McMurphy. A fluid dervish, Jones makes one bold choice after another - all ringing true - and has an innate, visceral feel for the character. Better still, he fills the stage with McMurphy's indomitable spirit.


New Village Arts, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, playing through April 21.

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Comments

SD_TalkAbout April 7, 2013 @ 1:23 p.m.

Another fine review Jeff. You'd be surprised though at how many people DO NOT understand symbolism be it religious or otherwise, even when the images and script have references.

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