Rebel’s Heart

Rebel Randle P. McMurphy accepts a commitment to a mental ward to avoid a sentence to a work farm.  The charming ne’er-do-well quickly comes into conflict with Nurse Ratched, the dominating ruler of the ward.  His victories over the cold-hearted nurse begin to breathe new life into the ward, but when he learns his stay in the institution can be extended indefinitely, his personal war with Ratched takes on dire stakes where it becomes clear only one of them will be left standing.  This is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman and based off Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name.  It is currently playing at Florence Community Theater.

I’ve always been a big admirer of this show, not only for the strong story and compelling characters, but for its themes of societal views on mental illness, what it means to really live life, the triumph of the underdog and the corruption of power, just to name a few.  The themes and characters of this show are brought to vibrant life by a colorful, energetic and mighty cast that came out with all guns a blazing with some storytelling that does extreme justice to this tale.

Neal Herring provides some superlative direction for this piece.  Doing double duty with set design, Herring stages the story in the unfriendly, starched white walls of the mental institution where the patients live a monotonous and controlled existence under the thumb of Nurse Ratched.  Herring utilizes the space quite well as each patient carves out his own little nook in the ward.  He’s also led his thespians to well-developed performances as all characters have their quirks and tics which wonderfully create this little slice of purgatory.

I applaud the ensemble for giving its all to the show.  Each and every one remained involved in the story and had mannerisms and/or reactions that told me something about them which helped to build this little world.  Some notable performances in the ensemble came from JJ Davis who seems to have had one shock treatment too many with his take on the hallucinating Martini and Jim Watson who gives a very empathetic performance as Dale Harding, the patient ward’s president who is wrestling with his own sexual identity.

Brian Henning gives quite a moving performance as Chief Bromden, the show’s narrator.  Henning has a wonderful gift for pantomime and some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen on a performer.  His eyes often let me read his thoughts as Chief has buried his sense of identity so deeply that he rarely speaks (the narration is done via voiceover) and pretends to be deaf and dumb so he won’t have to react to anything around him.  It’s a joy to watch Henning’s Chief slowly blossom to life under the encouragement of McMurphy and his antics and his emotional breakdown during the play’s resolution is one of the finest heartbreaking moments I’ve seen in Omaha theatre.

I can’t say enough good things about David Frolio’s performance as Randle P. McMurphy.  It is a truly a nuanced, spellbinding interpretation and I foresee Frolio being in the running for some Best Actor prizes come awards season.  Frolio is just a force of nature.  He comes blowing into the asylum like a storm and is so animated and fun to watch.  His McMurphy is truly a rebel.  He cares little for rules and authority and loves to fight and f—k.  But he also has a heart of gold as he truly befriends the patients and fights for them even when he’s causing trouble for his own amusement.  Frolio carefully walks the line with McMurphy’s battles with Ratched as he expertly acts as the burr under her saddle while tempering his behavior so she is unable to counterattack with the resources at her disposal.  Frolio steadily builds and builds the tension until his McMurphy is finally forced to take drastic action when a beloved comrade falls victim in the war between he and Ratched.

Shelly Gushard gets an awful lot right with her take on Nurse Ratched.  Gushard’s Ratched is the god of this little world and woe betide any who thwart her commandments.  She’s also clearly the yang to McMurphy’s yin, not just in personality, but physicality as she is clearly the stronger of the two which added to her aura of power.

I liked how controlled she was and never allowed Ratched to get overly emotional.  With a look and a glare, Ratched is even able to cow and bend the asylum’s doctor to her steely will.  I also enjoyed how she would take little moments to exert control over her emotions when McMurphy pushed her buttons.  But I think she’s got the room to be even colder, downright frigid I dare say, which would well suit the machinelike Ratched who genuinely believes her routines and rules and morality will help cure the patients.

Tim Mantil gives an extremely moving performance as Billy Bibbit.  Mantil nails Billy’s shy nature with his soft-spokenness and believable, naturalistic stuttering.  He also brilliantly communicates Billy’s constant thoughts of suicide with his twitchy movements, distressed expressions and persistent touching of his bandaged wrists.  He just needs to be a little careful with his voice as it sometimes went into too high a register which made Billy seem more childish instead of childlike.

Cecelia Sass and Syrian Black did a pretty good job with the costumes from the classic nurse’s outfits to the T-shirts and dark sweats of the patients to McMurphy’s leather jacket and trademark hat.  I did think the costumes for McMurphy’s female friends could be a bit trashier as they seemed a little too elegantly garbed for the crowd he’d likely run with.  Derek Kowal and Stuart Anderson provided some lovely sounds for the show with ducks quacking during a morning sunrise to the ominous sounds of electro shock therapy when McMurphy and Chief are dragged away for treatment after a brawl with the orderlies.

It is a story of a battle of wills and this cast takes you on the emotional roller coaster ride of this slugfest with a strong, measured hand.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll cry.  You may even be in stunned silence at some moments.  But you’ll definitely be hooked from beginning to end.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest runs at Florence Community Theater through Feb 23.  Showtimes will be Fri-Sat at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets cost $12 ($10 for TAG members/60+/groups of 8 or more).  For reservations, call 531-600-8634 or visit www.florencetheater.org.  Due to some strong language and sensitive subject matter, this show is not recommended for children.  Florence Community Theatre is located inside of Florence City Hall at 2864 State St in Omaha, NE.

BLT Announces Auditions for “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Bellevue Little Theatre presents
Arsenic & Old Lace Auditions

Sunday, November 11 @ 7:00 PM
Monday, November 12 @ 7:00 PM

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

Interested parties need only attend one evening of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you. Those auditioning will be asked to read sections from the script. These will be provided at auditions.

Actors should bring:
• All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts to complete the audition form.
• A recent photo to attach to audition form. Photos do not need to be professional and will not be returned. Should you not have a photo, one will be taken at the time of the audition.
Casting decisions will be completed and all parties notified no later than Sunday, September 16th.

Rehearsals: expected to begin in late November
Performance Dates: January 18-February 3, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Mortimer Brewster is living a happy life: he has a steady job at a prominent New York newspaper, he’s just become engaged, and he gets to visit his sweet spinster aunts to announce the engagement. Mortimer always knew that his family had a bit of a mad gene — his brother believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt and his great-grandfather used to scalp Indians for pleasure — but his world is turned upside down when he realizes that his dear aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years! When Mortimer’s maniacal brother, Jonathan. (who strangely now resembles Boris Karloff) returns on the night that the aunts were planning to bury the newest victim, Mortimer must rally to help his aunts and protect his fiancé — all while trying to keep his own sanity. as well. An uproarious farce on plays involving murder, Arsenic and Old Lace has become a favorite.
Todd Uhrmacher will be director for this classic.

Adults are required for this production. Cast requirements are as follows.  For information contact the director at uhrmne@gmail.com.

Available Roles:
* Abby Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered– murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Martha Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered–murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Elaine Harper: A sweet young lady who knows what she wants. She is in love with Mortimer and she is not about to let him talk her out of their engagement. (18-25)
* Mortimer Brewster: A young theatre critic who has a bunch of crazy people in his family tree. He himself is afraid of becoming crazy as well as what may happen if people find out about the skeletons in his families cellar. (25-30)
* Teddy Brewster: A bit on the crazy side; Teddy Brewster thinks that he is president teddy Roosevelt. He buries all of Martha and Abby’s “gentlemen” in the basement. (25-35)
* Jonathan Brewster: He was troubled as a child and is even more so as an adult. He has escaped from a mental institution and has murdered multiple people. In order to hide from the law Johnny has had to turn to plastic surgery to alter his face, leaving him disfigured. (30-40)
* Dr. Einstein: A plastic surgeon who is often drinking. He has also escaped from a mental institution. He has a German accent (30-50)
* The Rev. Dr Harper: A protective father to Elaine. (40-60)
* Mr. Gibbs: A nice elderly man who lives alone and has no family. (60-70)
* Officer O’Hera: A officer who doesn’t really want to be an officer. He wants to write plays and is eager to tell the renowned critique Mortimer about his plot. He’s not very good at reading the room or knowing when now is not a good time. (20- 40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Brophy: An officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Klein: Another officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Lieutenant Rooney: All bronze and no brain. An officer of the law. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Mr. Witherspoon: Superintendent of Happy Dale sanitarium. (40-60) (This character may be male or female.)

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Auditions for Man of La Mancha at Omaha Community Playhouse

Audition Dates: Monday, June 22 at 7 p.m. and Tuesday, June 23 at 7 p.m.

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

Production Dates: September 18 – October 18, 2015
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Hilary Adams
Synopsis: Winner of five Tony Awards, Man of La Mancha is a tale of hope and inspiration. When Miguel Cervantes is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he is able to keep only one possession: a manuscript of a play he has written. As Cervantes sets the stage with his words in a bleak prison cell, he transports the inmates to another world—the world of Don Quixote. The inmates become characters in his story as he sings about “The Impossible Dream” in this theatrical celebration of the power of imagination.

Character Descriptions:
Notes: Some of the doubling & assignments of roles may change, depending on vocal range and score / script needs. ALL PARTS REQUIRE SINGING unless noted below. Quite a lot of physicality and violence for most of the company.

Miguel de Cervantes / Alonso Quijana & Don Quixote : Male, 40s
Poet, actor, playwright, and would-be knight. He is a romantic, and has a vision of a far better and nobler world, where knights and chivalry rule the day. Often portrayed as a tall, thin man in his late forties, but this description has flexibility. Baritone.

Sancho Panza / The Manservant: Male, 40-50s +
Older than Don Quixote, he has served Quixote/Cervantes for many years and is devoted to him, even with all his idiosyncrasies. Usually portrayed as shorter than Cervantes, and quite stout – this trait is flexible. Tenor.

Captain of the Inquisition: Male
Strong, dedicated to his work and the cause. Any vocal range.

Guard 1 & 2: Male
Soldiers of the Inquisition (Non-speaking but may sing; we will consider non-singing for the guards.) If singing, any vocal range.

Prisoner called The Governor / The Innkeeper: Male 30s +
As the Governor is the leader of the inmate society in the prison, but is a kindly Innkeeper. Gives the impression of largeness and power. Bass.

Prisoner called The Duke / Dr. Carrasco / Dr. Carrasco playing the Knight of Mirrors: Male, 30s +
As the character of the Duke he is the sidekick to the Governor; however, when he plays Dr. Carrasco, he is Antonia’s fiancé. He thinks Don Quixote is mad and insists that he come home and be treated for his malady. The Knight of Mirrors is a role Dr. Carrasco puts on to trick Quixote into realizing that he is not a knight but rather a squire. Baritone.

Prisoner/ Aldonza: Female, Late 20s +
As a prisoner, she often keeps herself separate from the others. In role as Aldonza, she is a serving woman at the inn, and a part-time prostitute, Aldonza is rough on the exterior, but has a gentle heart inside and yearns to believe what Don Quixote tells her. Quixote falls in loves with her and insists her name is Dulcinea and that she is a beautiful, gentle woman. Also, the character of Aldonza is brutally attacked by the muleteers. Soprano with belt.

Prisoner / Maria, Female, 30s +
Innkeepers wife, supportive of the Innkeeper and of their establishment.
Any vocal range.

Prisoner/ Fermina, Female, 20s +
Serving girl at the inn. Mezzo.

Prisoner/ The Padre, Male, 30s +
Administers to Quioxte’s wishes on his deathbed, and handles his relations and housekeeper when they visit his church for guidance. Well-meaning.
Tenor.

Prisoner/ Antonia, Female, 20s +
Quixote’s niece and Dr. Carrasco’s fiancée. Soprano.

Prisoner/ The Housekeeper, Female
She is housekeeper to Quixote; pretty sure he’s lost his mind and wants him to come home and be well. Mezzo.

Prisoner/ The Barber, Male
Comic role, thinks Quixote is mad but willing to play along. Tenor.

Prisoner/ Horse 1 & 2 One Male, one Female
Dancing / movement roles when playing horses. One male, one female.
Any vocal range.

Prisoner/ Dancer, Female, 20s +
Strong dancer. Dance includes a gypsy-inspired belly-dance. Mezzo.

Prisoner/ Muleteers: muleteer – a driver of mules; think rough band of rovers on the road.
Note: Except for Pedro and Anselmo, the vocal parts are interchangeable & we will assign based on actor.

The following are all male roles:
Prisoner / Tenorio, a muleteer.
Prisoner / Juan, a muleteer – smallest muleteer.
Prisoner / Paco, a muleteer
Prisoner / Anselmo, a muleteer. Tenor.
Prisoner / Pedro, the head muleteer; leads the attack against Aldonza. Baritone.
Prisoner / Jose, a muleteer
Prisoner/ Onstage Guitarist, a muleteer; need to have own guitar. Will play during rehearsals and performance; Spanish influenced incidental music primarily at the beginning of the show, and accompaniment for LITTLE BIRD.

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.