A B & B Sojourn

Marsh House

Marsh House

Twas the day before spring

And I had an itch

To travel the road once more

And hoped for no hitch.

Cheesy verse aside, I did once more yield to the call of the road.  This time I was heading to Galena, IL which bills itself as the most beautiful city in America.

Night 1

As I knew this would, more likely than not, be my last B & B outing until the summertime, I wanted to do something special.  So I decided to turn my visit into a B & B sojourn.  In order to have more exploration time in Galena and to kill two birds with one stone, I drove half of the trip on the first day.  I ended up stopping at the town of Grinnell in Iowa so I could visit Marsh House.

Grinnell was actually a surprising little city.  I was expecting a traditional small town, but this place was quite vibrant.  It had a bustling main street, a nice movie theater, a community theatre, and a wide variety of restaurants.  I soaked up the sights of the pleasant little burg and soon found myself at the doorway of Marsh House.

I was greeted by Linda who gave me a brief tour of the place.  I was struck by the elegance of Marsh House.  From the decanter of sherry by the front door to the period furniture throughout the home, I felt transported to a bygone time.  Linda led me to the Prairie Bedroom before leaving me to my own devices.

The Prairie Bedroom.

The Prairie Bedroom.

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That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

I spent a few hours relaxing before heading out to dinner at the Frontier Café.  It was a quaint establishment and I took a seat at the corner where I ordered a Cowboy Burger that came with a cup of chili and French fries.  The burger was quite delicious, flavored with tortilla chips, bacon bits, and fresh jalapenos.  The chili was tasty enough, but was rather thin and watery.

I returned to Marsh House where I prepared and slowly sipped a sherry.  After an afternoon of driving, I was ready for a long, hot bath and a movie.  Unfortunately, Linda had forgotten to include any soap and shampoo in the bathroom, so my hopes for a bath went poof.  Right before turning my phone off for the evening, I received a call from Dave who was one of the owners of the B & B I would be staying at in Galena.  Apparently there had been an emergency and he would not be available for my 1pm check-in the next day, but would be in at 4pm.

With that news, I settled into bed for the night and enjoyed the solitude.  You see, I was literally the only person in the inn as even the owners did not live on property.

Day 1 & Night 2

The next morning I went downstairs for breakfast where Linda had prepared a vegetarian meal for my Lenten sensibilities.  I enjoyed a delicious fruit parfait, followed by a feta cheese omelet with a side of fried potatoes seasoned with garlic, and a blueberry muffin.  Linda apologized for too much garlic on the potatoes, but I assured her there was no such thing.

I read the newspaper as I ate watching my NCAA bracket go down in flames due to the upsets on the first day.  I polished off everything except the muffin which I decided to feed to the birds.  After breakfast, I asked Linda for some soap and shampoo so I could get cleaned up.  I returned Dave’s phone call where he told me that someone would be able to meet me at 1pm so I could have a base of operations while I explored the town.

I performed my ablutions, settled my bill, and got into the Chrismobile to complete my journey to Galena.  However, do get a room at Marsh House if you happen to be in Grinnell as it was a jewel in an oasis.

Bernadine's Stillman Inn

Bernadine’s Stillman Inn

I arrived at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn, owned by Dave and Bernadette at 1pm.  I called Dave who said Christian would meet me at the front door.  Christian gave me the nickel tour and led me to my room, the Royalty II.  After exploring the inn and snapping photos, I began to explore the town.

The Royalty II

The Royalty II

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Galena is an extremely hilly city, so get ready for a workout as you navigate the terrain.  My first stop was the visit the Grant home which happened to be right across the street.  Ulysses S Grant had lived in Galena where he worked for his family’s leather goods store.  Prior to the Civil War, Grant rented a modest two story home for $100 a year.  Due to his service during the Civil War, a group of wealthy citizens got together and gifted him with a permanent home.

Ironically, Grant did not get to spend a lot of time in his home as he had to be away a lot to wind down operations in the aftermath of the Civil War, then spent 8 years in Washington D.C. as President, and toured over 30 countries after his term of office expired.  Grant’s children decided to gift the home back to the city.  Oddly enough, while it is a nice house, it is fairly modest in its own right.

Grant's home.

Grant’s home.

Grant's dining room.  This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

Grant’s dining room. This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

After visiting the home, I began touring the city.  Galena calls itself the most beautiful city in America and there may be some argument for that.  This city is littered with historic homes and bed and breakfasts.  Some of these buildings were shipped into the city just to beautify the place.

Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S Grant

Belvedere Mansion

Belvedere Mansion

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I wandered down to Main Street and discovered they have a rather bustling economy.  Numerous restaurants and shops made up the main drag.  My eye caught a sign called Root Beer Revelry and I decided to visit the establishment.  The sign was quite truthful as the store sold nothing but root beer in all varieties and all shapes and sizes.  I indulged in a root beer float.

I returned to the inn for a little bit, but went back downtown to have dinner at the DeSoto House in the Green Street Tavern.  I enjoyed a grilled salmon sandwich and then went to the lobby where I continued my forays into the supernatural by taking the All About a Ghost Tour, guided by Steven Rupp.

Steven works at the Galena library and has accumulated quite a bit of knowledge about the city.  It ended up being a personally guided tour as I was the only who showed up.  Another couple seemed interested, but left to get some cash and never returned.  Could they have been. . .spirits????  Nah!

It was a pleasant evening for a walk and Steven shared all sorts of tales about the city.  It was more history and less mystery, though there were a few tales about the supernatural peppered throughout the night.  The most interesting tale was when a businesswoman contacted Steven and asked him if he had ever heard about a haunting in a new house.  He had to confess that he had not.

The businesswoman had rented a newly built house in Galena for a weekend so she could do some shopping in town after a seminar.  After the seminar, she was putting her feet up in the rental home when she happened to look towards the bathroom.  She saw a little girl staring into the bathroom, her back to the businesswoman.  Suddenly the girl’s head turned to face the businesswoman and just the head.  The body stayed still.  Then she went into the bathroom where she disappeared.  Steven was unable to discover any stories about the area, but theorized that old homes may have been demolished to make room for these rental homes which is why a ghost could be in a new home.

After the tour, I walked back to the inn where I had the best night’s sleep I’ve experienced in quite a while.  I didn’t wake up during the night and didn’t budge a muscle.

Day 2 & Night 3

In the morning, I was finally able to meet Dave and Bernadette.  Dave and I had been exchanging phone calls over most of Friday, but never had the chance to meet until breakfast that morning.  The repast began with a cream and peach yogurt sprinkled with pumpkin flaxseed granola.  Superb!!  After that, I elected to have a ham and cheese omelet with a side of turkey bacon and some cinnamon swirl toast.  The omelet and bacon were perfect, but they forgot my toast.  But that was okay because I was full from the other items.

Galena Trolley Tour

Galena Trolley Tour

I spent most of the morning writing before heading downtown for a trolley tour.  I was a little taken aback by the $19.50 price tag, but the tour would last for an hour.  I had a good time seeing some more of Galena’s beautiful architecture and learning something of Galena’s unique history.  In its heyday, Galena was the richest city in the country due to a lead rush.  In fact, 90% of the lead used in America is from Galena or the nearby area.

The conductor/tour guide also had a terrific story about how Ulysses S Grant came into the Presidency.  There was a powerful political family known as the Washburnes and Elihu Washburne badly wanted to be President, but would not be elected because his family already held powerful political positions which would make people be unwilling to vote for him.  Instead he and some friends decided to find a quiet, shy man they could propel into the office as a proxy.  They decided to support Grant as he was riding a tidal wave of popularity.  Grant was elected into office and he gave Washburne the position of Secretary of State.  However, Washburne had underestimated Grant’s backbone and integrity as he refused to govern the way Washburne wanted him and bounced him from the post after 11 days, through he did appoint him as a minister to France.

When the tour ended, the group was given a coupon for a free small popcorn at the American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor.  I decided to get a little snack and was hoping I could get an old fashioned ice cream soda, too, but the dispenser was broken.  I ended up returning to Root Beer Revelry and enjoyed another root beer float.

I returned to the inn to relax for a bit and then headed to St Michael’s for worship services.  It was a particularly good sermon from Father Reese who talked removing the “I” or emptying ourselves for Jesus and why the cross offends.

After a nice service, I headed over to Gobbie’s for a bit of dinner.  The food at Gobbie’s must be amazing because the wait was unbelievable.  If I wanted a table, I would have had to wait for 45 minutes as there were 21 people waiting.  I ended up taking a seat at the bar and ordered the gyro platter with a Greek salad.  This was probably the tastiest gyro I have ever eaten so I definitely recommend a visit to this eatery.

Once I had finished eating, I went to the P.T. Murphy magic show where I met two new acquaintances, Ken & Cindy of Davenport, IA.  This was an intimate performance.  The theater can only hold about 24 people, so all of the illusions and tricks are performed up close and personal.  P.T. Murphy is an excellent magician and performer with a sharp sense of humor and a well developed sense of improvisation.

Yours truly even got involved in the act.  At one point, P.T. Murphy asked the audience if anybody had a $50 bill as he was dedicating the trick to Ulysses S Grant.  Nobody had one, though one audience member was reluctant to part with a $100 bill.  I offered up $20 which P.T. Murphy had me sign on Jackson’s forehead.  Then I folded up the bill a number of times and placed it into an envelope.  P.T. Murphy then brought out two other envelopes with similarly folded pieces of paper.  Then he mixed up the envelopes and labeled them 1, 2, and 3.

P.T. Murphy asked me to select an audience member to pick an envelope so I picked my new friend, Cindy, who selected 2.  P.T. Murphy then proceeded to burn the other 2 envelopes.  He opened number 2 and iniside was a white piece of paper.  He carefully unfolded it to reveal the message, “Oops”.

Then P.T. Murphy asked me to bring over a box that was sitting in the corner.  He gave me the key and I unlocked the box and inside. . .was another box.  P.T. Murphy gave me the key to that box which I unlocked and inside. . .was a paper bag.  Inside the paper bag was on orange.  P.T. Murphy cut the orange in half and in the center was my signed $20 bill.

This was truly one of the most enjoyable events of my project.  If you find yourself in the Galena area, get a ticket to this show.  Afterwards, I returned to my room for a well deserved rest.

Last Morning

I had awoken at what I believed to be 6:30am according to the clock in my bedroom.  Since breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30, I just decided to putter around, relax, watch the news, repack,  and take a long shower.  After 90 minutes, I decided to go online to check the news and discovered that it was actually nearly 9am!!  My clock was an hour slow.

I threw on some clothes, quickly cleaned up, and made a speedy appearance in the dining room.  Today’s menus featured lovecakes (heart shaped pancakes) infused with cinnamon, banana, and/or blueberries, cinnamon swirl toast, a spinach quiche (with or without sausage), and linkers (sausages) or turkey bacon.  I opted for cinnamon lovecakes with the sausage and spinach quiche, turkey bacon, and cinnamon swirl toast (which I did get this time).  Once more it was a tasty meal with some delightful conversation.

With the end of breakfast came the end of my little sojourn.  Galena is a fun little town and my only regret was similar to my time in Abilene, KS as I came a little off-season.  There is so much to do here, but you need to come during the May-October season.  But there was more than enough to keep me occupied, interested, and entertained for the weekend.

And if you’re in the Galena area, get a room at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.  You’ll enjoy some great food and a most entertaining host and you just may have a bit of fun, educational or otherwise.

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A Season of Change, Part IV: Is There a Woolf at the Door?

“The wonderful joy at being able to say ‘yes’ to a talented artist is often undercut by the horrible responsibility of having to say ‘no’ so many more times to equally talented artists.”—Unknown

I don’t envy the lot of directors when it comes to casting.  As difficult as things are on the acting side, there is also a tremendous amount of difficulty on the casting side.  Getting just the right blend of performers to tell the best possible story is truly an art form and I believe the above quotation best reflects the plight of directors.

Having to break a lot of hearts is not fun.  I’m also certain the criticism for doing so is even less enjoyable.

“It’s not fair.”

“He/she hates me.”

“It’s all politics and favoritism.”

I’m certain directors have heard variations of the above remarks and then some on numerous occasions.  Sometimes the criticism may be well founded and true.  But, by and large, I believe a director’s choices are impersonal and rejection simply comes from the fact that you did not suit the director’s vision.  This is something I’ve grown to understand and appreciate more over the last year and a half since I became an independent theatre critic.  I’ve grown to appreciate it so much that I’m thinking about trying my hand at direction one day, so if any of my director friends are reading this and are interested in letting me shadow them for a show next season, drop me a line.

I once read an article by a director who said, “I hate that experienced, talented actors can see whether or not they get cast as a measure of their intrinsic worth as actors”.  Truer words were never spoken.  This is the only business I know where you can be a failure and a success all at the same time.  But I’d also like to take a moment to try to respond to that statement.

The reason actors see the casting as the yardstick of their worth as performers is that it is the only validation we have of our skills.  Sometimes a rejection can be done in such a way that it almost completely salves the disappointment of not getting the job.  But the bottom line is if we’re not the ones on stage or in front of the camera telling the story, we instinctively feel as if we failed even if we intellectually know that the work we did in the audition was good.  After all, everyone likes to taste the fruit of their labors.

Now I’ve told you all that to set the stage for my latest theatre tale.

After the victorious defeat of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I began preparing for a return to the Playhouse with an audition for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  For me, it would be my first audition under the new Playhouse artistic director, Hilary Adams.

I knew the odds would be long going into this show.  The show is only a 4 person cast and there is only one role for a younger man.  Knowing that up front actually took a considerable amount of pressure from my shoulders.  I headed into the audition solely with the intention of making a good showing and leaving with my head held high.  Anything else would simply be icing on the cake.

The turnout was smaller than I expected, but still more than enough to be able to cast the show from our night alone.  As I glanced around the room, I knew the role of Nick (the one I was eligible for) could be cast three times over at a minimum as I noticed both Nick Zadina and Sean, who read so well for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in attendance along with myself.

Under Hilary’s leadership, auditions have changed at the Playhouse and I would say for the better.  Now pictures of the actors are taken to go along with their audition information sheets.  Hilary also prefers to bring the performers in as small groups.  I think this brings a double edged advantage to the actors as they not only know that they have the director’s full attention, but I think it unleashes their creativity to the Nth degree.  They do not have to worry that their interpretation is similar to another performer’s.  Every actor can be secure in the knowledge that everything done in the audition will be perceived as completely original.

I ended up being in the second group called in to audition.  It was an older gent named Lance and myself who would be reading the roles of George and Nick.

This first read presented one of the interesting challenges of the audition process as actors of varying levels of talent are often paired together.  My partner was very inexperienced and it showed.  When experienced/naturally talented performers work together, the energy of the performance is like a ball that’s tossed around in a game of hot potato.  Toss in an inexperienced/less talented person and it’s like throwing a ball against a wall and watching it drop.

Before we began reading, Hilary made the interesting request for us not to block anything.  Another hurdle removed as some performers are so intent on the words that movement sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

The pressure was really on George in this side as he has the bulk of the dialogue and gets the ball rolling.  Lance read and it sounded like reading as well.  For my own part, I was pleased with my work.  I fired the ball with energy, made some decisive choices about Nick, and presented a character I liked.  I did find it humorous that in the back of my head I kept thinking, “Oh, this feels like a movement line.  That feels like another.  There’s a third.”

About a half hour later, I was called in again.  This time I read with two people.  A man named Jeremy would read as George and Sydney Readman would read as Nick’s wife, Honey.  This time I felt that ball being tossed around.  Jeremy had some nice chops and instincts and had a really rich speaking voice.

Again I was pleased with my work and really enjoyed the byplay between the three of us in the scene.  After we had read it once, Hilary asked us to read it again, but gave some direction to Sydney and me.  For Nick, she wanted me to make him “more beta and less alpha”.  She explained that at this early stage, Nick wouldn’t be standing up to George quite so much.  This was a business meeting and Nick is trying to make a good impression.  She also asked me to be a bit more loving towards Honey.  I processed these changes and gave a more beta interpretation.  Though in hindsight, I think I should have kissed Sydney’s hand to seem more loving.  The words had the right intention and I did tenderly clasp her arm, but my gut says a stronger action should have been used.

Twenty minutes after the read, Jeannine Robertson, the Playhouse’s Artistic Administrative Assistant, told me that Hilary had seen all she needed from me and that I could go home.  I had been there for 2 ½ hours, read three times, and took some direction.  All in all, the signs of a very positive audition.  Callbacks would be on Saturday so I knew if I didn’t get notification by the end of Friday, I could officially consider myself out of the running.  I had nothing to be ashamed of as I accomplished my main task.  I had a good showing and, hopefully, gave Hilary something to remember for future auditions.

Regrettably, I did not receive that callback.  Fortunately, I was braced for it, but it’s still a mild disappointment.  But I did the best I could with the material I had.  The only regret, as it were, was that I would have liked to have read a meatier side for Nick.  Then I would have known that I had truly given it all that I had.

With such a small cast, other good actors also, unfortunately, heard the word, ‘no’ for this one, too.  And, believe me, there was some heavyweight talent that did not make it in.  Let me see if these numbers put it in perspective.  Four people heard the word ‘yes’.  At least twenty others heard the word ‘no’.  Chew on that for a bit.

While there’s no Woolf at the door for me, I do remain content that there will be something for me in the future.  A friend once told me that becoming a stronger actor doesn’t mean the number of roles you obtain goes up.  It just means that the quality of your rejections goes up.  With some of my adventures over the past couple of years, I think there’s quite a bit of truth to that statement.  But, if I may add to his statement, I think the quality of the rewards goes up, too, and that’s something all actors should keep in mind.

Until the next time.

Superstar Soars

From the first notes of Jim Boggess and his superlative orchestra, you will be catapulted on an amazing journey for the eyes, ears, and heart as you experience the last week of Jesus’ life told in the style of a rock opera.  This is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is, by far, the best musical ever mounted on an Omaha stage and Kimberly Faith Hickman deserves a standing ovation of her own for an extraordinary display of direction and choreography.  Never is there a wasted beat, nuance, or moment and you will be riveted to this incredibly powerful story from beginning to end.  It has been updated so that the tale now takes place in modern times which I believe strengthens its relevance.  Jesus and his followers are now street people living in a derelict shantytown while Pilate and the high priests are well dressed businessmen.  Lydia Dawson’s masterful costuming and Jim Othuse’s deceptively simple set perfectly catch the mood of this update.

This is one of those shows where I truly wish I’d be able to single out every performer individually in a review, but for the sake of brevity, let me say that this cast is phenomenal.  Each and every one is always in the moment and exudes an incredible amount of energy that helps propel the show to unimaginable heights.  Among the talented ensemble were a few standout performances that deserve special notice such as Zach Kloppenborg’s portrayal of the obsequious, irritating suck up Annas.   His whining tenor wonderfully grates on your nerves throughout the night.  Jimmy Nguyen’s Peter was a surprising delight as his strong, supple singing voice completely belies his slight frame.  Jerry Van Horn rules the stage as King Herod as he smarmily tries to get Jesus to prove his divinity in “Herod’s Song”.

Roderick Cotton is a marvel as Jesus’ betrayer, Judas Iscariot.  Oddly enough, he is actually the centerpiece of this story as it is told from his point of view.  Cotton makes for a surprisingly sympathetic Judas as he is Jesus’ right hand man, but fears things are getting out of control now that people believe that Jesus is the son of God (Heaven on Their Minds) while he is convinced Jesus is just a wise teacher.  Cotton’s powerful tenor is capable of capturing a wide range of emotion from sneering superiority as he blasts Mary Magdalene for anointing Jesus with expensive ointment in “Everything’s Alright” to desperation as he feels compelled to betray Jesus for his own good in “Damned for All Time/Blood Money” to anger as he confronts Jesus at “The Last Supper”.

Cotton is also a treat to watch in his silent moments as his expressions are crystal clear and tell a story all of their own.  Not only is it a striking performance, I believe it has the potential to be an award winning one at the end of the season.

John Gajewski handles the role of Jesus with grace and aplomb.  His dynamite tenor reaches searing and soaring falsettos that would make Ted Neeley proud.  Gajewski’s Jesus really emphasizes his human nature and reminds us that Jesus felt the same emotions as every other person.  Rarely have I heard such subtle, outstanding nuance in a voice as Gajewski glides from tender love and hope for his followers to understand the truth of his mission in “Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem”, to supreme confidence in his message in “Hosanna”, to fury at the desecration of his Father’s house in “The Temple”, to frustration with his followers not getting it in “The Last Supper”, and caps it off with a haunting acceptance of his death in “Gethsemane”.

Gajewski’s expressions and body language are just as subtle.  Particularly telling were the weariness in his face when he accepts his destiny in “Gethsemane” and his pained suffering as he is scourged in “Trial by Pilate”.  Both moments had me searching for a tissue.

Many experienced performers would be envious of the stage presence and confidence possessed by young Roni Shelley Perez who plays Mary Magdalene.  Her sweet soprano captures utter devotion to Jesus as she comforts him in “Everything’s Alright”, a perplexed confusion in her dominating solo “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, and a slow understanding of the truth of Jesus in “Could We Start Again, Please?”  Her performance was one of the night’s many highlights.

Also spectacular were Cork Ramer as the high priest, Caiphas, and Michael Markey as Pontius Pilate.  Ramer’s flawless bass exudes a dark menace as he plots to eliminate Jesus in “Jesus Must Die” and a mocking congratulations and thank you to Judas in “Judas’ Death”.  Markey’s facile baritone paints a picture of a man reluctant to execute the innocent Jesus, but who finally buckles under the extreme pressure in “Trial by Pilate”.

A few minor missteps in diction, projection, and dancing did not distract from this entrancing, beautiful, and moving night of theatre.  As Saturday’s sellout crowd indicates, this show is already morphing into a massive success.  Get a ticket before it’s too late to see this epic hit and potential awards season darling.

Jesus Christ Superstar runs until April 4 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Wed-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $40 for adults and $25 for students.  Contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

A Morality Play for Madmen

In the sterile ward (nicely designed by Josh Mullady, Dan Whitehouse, and Bob & Denise Putman) of a mental institution, a war is waged for the souls of the patients.  On the side of the angels is Randle P. McMurphy, an inmate who likes to fight and f—k.  The demons’ champion is the cold-blooded Nurse Ratched who rules the ward with an iron fist.  Their intense battle of wills makes up the story of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman based off of a novel by Ken Kesey and currently playing at the Chanticleer Community Theatre.

Director Ron Hines has done a nice job mining the script for both comedic and dramatic moments and has cast a unique blend of characters for this show.  Aside from the two leads, the success of this show depends on casting a strong ensemble of patients to bring the necessary flavor to the piece and Hines’ casting was right on the money as each patient breathed a beautiful bit of life into the show.

Particular notice needs to be given to Joseph Edie, making his stage debut, who takes the nearly catatonic role of Ruckley and runs with it for all its worth, Jim Farmer who brings a twitchy awesomeness to the role of the hallucinating Martini, Gary Lee Jungers who is a riot in the role of the lazy drunkard, Aide Turkel, David Sindelar as the all bark, no bite Charles Cheswick III who gravitates towards the strongest person in the room, Randy Vest who brings a touching intelligence to the role of Dale Harding, a repressed homosexual who is also president of the patients’ union, Mark Reid as the timid, but fair, Dr. Spivey, and Meganne Rebecca Storm who brings a vampy sweetness to the role of Candy Starr, a hooker friend of McMurphy.

Craig Bond commands the stage in the role of Randle P. McMurphy.  Bond does a fantastic job portraying McMurphy as a happy-go-lucky troublemaker who has submitted to being committed in order to avoid a hard prison sentence for statutory rape.  From the moment, Bond appears on stage, the audience knows things are going to be shaken up.  Bond’s McMurphy gleefully warbles songs, gambles with the patients on just about anything, plays cards with a deck pictured with naked women, hassles a God fearing nurse, and flouts authority at every available opportunity.

But McMurphy is also an antiheroic angel who brings the gift of hope to the downtrodden patients of the ward.  His antics and zest for life slowly remind the patients of what it means to be strong, especially as McMurphy is bound and determined to break the spirit of the iron willed Nurse Ratched who keeps the patients under her thumb with her rules and “therapy”.  When McMurphy learns that his stay could be indefinite as he is committed, it raises the stakes of his private war with Nurse Ratched to the ultimate level.

Debbie Bertelsen plays the role of Nurse Ratched, the domineering ruler of the ward.  In a battle between good and evil, the demon must be just as powerful as the angel in order to have an exciting conflict.  Unfortunately, Ms Bertelsen’s performance falls short of that standard and I fear she is miscast in the role.  The character of Nurse Ratched is truly a force to be reckoned with.  She is icy cold, stern, unyielding, and has a presence that should make your blood freeze in its veins.  Nurse Ratched is also the worst kind of evil as she is evil who honestly believes she is working on the side of good.  It is truly a difficult role to play.

Ms Bertelsen lacked the terrifying presence needed for the character and her fluid body language and line interpretation did not convey the sense that she was the “god” of this little world.  At points, she almost seemed like she was enjoying the cruelty of the character and that rang a little false as Ratched is genuinely committed to rehabilitating people.  It’s her execution of that commitment and unflinching belief that her way is the right way that makes her a bad person.

Brandyn Burget does a serviceable job as Bily Bibbit in his community theatre debut.  As the childlike, stuttering Bibbit, Burget has some very beautiful body language as he tries to hide within himself and has nice reactions in scenes where he does not speak much.  His line interpretation needs some more dramatic oomph at certain key moments, especially towards the end, but a very worthy effort overall.

Frank Insolera, Jr. gives a stoically mesmerizing performance as Chief Bromden.  Ostensibly, the narrator of the play, Insolera is an incredible physical presence as the towering Native American.  Pretending to be deaf and dumb, Insolera’s Chief Bromden silently observes the goings-on of the ward while pushing a broom around the stage.  His blank facial expressions and minimal movement are spot-on for the withdrawn Chief who slowly opens up to the renegade McMurphy.

Insolera imbues Chief with a wonderful weakness as he believes he is not strong enough to exist in the outside world.  That gradually changes as the ward realizes he can be reached and he finds an amazing strength in the aftermath of the final battle between Ratched and McMurphy.

In the end, this story is an interesting twist on the morality play.  It is at turns funny, tragic, happy, sad, but always hopeful.  It will give you a lot to think about and already seems to be shaping into a hit for the Chanticleer.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest continues at the Chanticleer Community Theatre through March 15.  Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $16 for senior citizens, and $10 for students.  Contact the theatre at 712-323-9955 for tickets.  The Chanticleer Community Theatre is located at 830 Franklin Ave in Council Bluffs, Iowa.