The Cuckoo’s Nest Sings Again in Kingston

by Kevin T McEneaney

Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest addresses the same theme as Tennessee Williams’ play Suddenly Last Summer (1958): mistreatment of people in mental asylums. Kesey had worked the night shift at a Veterans of War mental hospital in Oregon. Kesey’s first novel was an instant success and was quickly adapted to the stage the following year by Dale Wasserman. This current revival under the brilliantly taut direction of David Rubenstein plays at the Kingston Coach House whose theatrical ensemble is now in its 74th year.

This remains the kind of play where the lead protagonist fiercely dominates the action; that role is ably filled by Joshuah Patriarco whose voice, gestures, and vivid, volatile presence excite like a lit fuse of dynamite; the rants, boasts, and subversive behavior of Randle P. McMurphy are like a subway train rumbling through the underground. His antagonist, Nurse Ratchet, played by Elizabeth Dimon, delivers the dark, upright assurance of self-righteous blindness.

Inmate David Dancyger as Cheswick eloquently offers a lifeline of sanity amid mayhem and chaos. The character Billy Bibbit, a naïve stutterer is one of the most difficult roles, and Jeff Hernandez manages to be shyly repressed, Douglas Keller as Martini, the war veteran suffering guilt from operating a machine gun, has few lines, yet his manic, flashing gestures streak across the stage like lightning bolts. The silent heavy, Chief Bromden played by Thomas Annunziata, whose presence hulks at the heart of the action, pivots with sullen righteousness in the second act when he becomes the conscience of his suppressed identity, delivering the climatic reversal with gigantic presence in this adept tragicomedy about the inanity and insanity of the medical profession in the two decades after World War II.

David Bunde as Dale Harding provides ambivalent wisdom as he prefers to be entertained by insanity rather than reality. Samantha Mileski as Candy Starr offers hilarious comic relief amid tumultuous mayhem as the voluptuous woman willing to cure any male who is sexually repressed. George Prisco as Dr. Spivey manages to be on a child’s see-saw as he dispenses wishy-washy analysis that has no spine. Genevieve Buckman as Nurse Flinn nervously flits about the stage while she manages to be shocked about every ten seconds at everyone’s behavior.

This sublime cast of extravagant and raucous wackos delivers contagious amusement in a production that runs Friday through Sunday this weekend and next weekend. Tickets for this lively, robust, classic revival of amusing deviants who have no exit, except for the single escaping cuckoo, are available at

P.S. The character McMurphy in the play is a tribute to the novelist Dennis Murphy, the author of The Sergeant (1958), a World War II novel acclaimed by John Steinbeck, Wallace Stegner, and Hunter S. Thompson.

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo, and other books