One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Interesting, how time changes our perceptions. Back in the 1960s, when Ken Kesey wrote the book on which this play is based, mental institutions were an accepted fact of life. Sure, they were probably awful, but at least there were places to put people suffering from mental deficits of one sort or another. Now, in the enlightened 21st century, we let many people with severe mental disorders live amongst us, in communities that are rife with firearms. And we've wept through some of those consequences. Still, the denizens of this particular mental hospital, in Dale Wasserman's adaptation, seem remarkably passive and medicated. Until the outrageous and extroverted Randle P. McMurphy shows up and starts to roil the waters, angering the day room dominatrix, er, Nurse Ratched. Things don't start well in this production, as the first act is larded with so many long pauses, lingering beats and languorous low-volume line readings (other than McMurphy) that one begins to feel drugged. But the second act snaps into shape nicely under the direction of Patrick Ciamacco. As McMurphy, Daniel McElhaney opts for a lot of grinning and yelling early on. But he finds more variety as the show progresses, ultimately shaping a character to care about. Underplaying her role well (at times almost too well), Anne McEvoy gradually compiles a fearsome presence as Ratched. Among the strong supporting actors, Perren Hedderson is exquisitely frail and damaged as the stuttering Billy Bibbit and Aaron Patterson is solid as Chief Bromden (even if the staging of his pre-recorded interior monologues feel clumsy). Plus, Michael N. Herzog as Martini crafts a mostly silent portrait of hallucination that is at once amusing and deeply touching.
Through Aug. 2 at the Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studio, W. 78th Street, 440-941-0458.
Romeo and Juliet
If you've ever watched a production of Romeo and Juliet and thought that the lead actors really didn't look the age of their characters (13 for Juliet, maybe 16 or 17 for Romeo), then this staging by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival should be a treat. Chronological purists will appreciate that Miranda Coble, a soon-to-be high school senior, plays Juliet and the not-much-older Cody Kilpatrick Steele is her main squeeze Romeo. Their evident youth gives the play a raw, adolescent quality that brings a freshness to the familiar yarn of a terminal teenage crush, even if their line readings tend to be a tad abrupt and un-nuanced. Older actors handle most of the other parts, such as Robert Hawkes as the helpful yet conflicted Friar Lawrence and Carol Laursen as a fairly one-note, grumbling Nurse. But there are other problems afoot. Director Tyson Douglas Rand allows his actors to bulldoze many beats, squashing many familiar moments. Indeed, the beloved balcony scene virtually disappears in a rush of hurried emotional turns. One witty touch in this modern dress version is Ryan Edlinger's appearance as the Apothecary, er, drug dealer in a hoodie. On this night, there were also issues with the sound amplification that made some of the early scenes hard to hear. But regardless of quibbles, CleveShakes offers free outdoor theater, and that by itself should be enough to recommend a visit.
Through Aug. 3, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, www.cleveshakes.com.
Come Back, Little Sheba
On one hand, this play by William Inge (who also wrote Bus Stop and Picnic) feels like a brainlessly chatty and melodramatic relic from the 1950s. But there's another hand, wielded by director Paul Moser, and that hand paints a compelling portrait of a loving and deeply flawed relationship that was common in the '50s, and not all that unusual to find these days. Lola and Doc have been married a long time, and they've each given up a lot for their marriage to stay intact. Doc gave up a career as a full-fledged doctor (he's now a chiropractor) due to Lola's pregnancy. The child later died, leaving Lola unable to have any more children, and that has haunted the pair forever. Doc sought comfort in the bottle but now, as the play opens, he's been sober for a year. But there are torrents of passion and need surging under the apparently calm surface, as Lola chats up every young man who enters the house, including the milkman and the postman, trying out her coquettish charms that are long past their expiration date. Meanwhile, Doc is busy idealizing their young boarder Marie, until she proves herself soiled goods when he finds evidence that she's been shacking up with her college boy pal Turk. This sends him back to the bottle, setting up an Act Two meltdown that is terrifying to behold. As Doc, Matthew Wright is nicely compartmentalized early on, hewing to routine and being overly solicitous to his wife and Marie. But when the dam breaks, Wright's Doc explodes with a wrath that is raw and dark. Karen Nelson Moser is effortlessly natural as Lola. And although she doesn't explore a broad range of emotions, her fiercely controlled reactions tell their own kind of tragic story. They are supported by a strong cast, particularly Annie Winneg as the opportunistically carnal Marie and Colin Wulff as the buff Turk. All performances are free, but reservations are suggested.
Through Aug. 2, produced by the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival, at Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main St., Oberlin, 440-775-8169.