When one of fiction’s most memorable screwballs is hauled into an insane asylum in Sequoia Pathway Academy’s production of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” it has all the clinical appearance of an actual mental ward.
Kevin Struble’s terrific set creates a tone that no dialogue can, its clean and ordered lines contrasting the manic psychological situation of the patients. It even includes a fully realized nurse’s station – with sliding glass window – that is pivotal to the action of the high school play.
R.P. McMurphy (Derek Reiher) enters this world of enforced tranquility as a loud agitator spreading hijinks in his wake. He can win over the doctor but not the infamous Nurse Ratched (Kacie Swaffield), as cold and detached as the walls that surround them.
That turns into a power struggle, with patients caught in the middle. A range of mental disorders is on display, and an expose of the deficient treatment too at hand in the 20th century. There is the blatant physical bullying by the staff (Jaiden Simcic and Jillian Alvarez) and the more subtly cruel abuse by Ratched.
Reiher brings a very naturalistic style to his central role and makes projection look easy. He’s clearly having fun in a story that quickly shifts from light to dark. Swaffield is cool and quiet in contrast but still believably as deadly as a snake.
Then there is Chief Bromden, an outsider even among the inmates but full of inner life. Grace Castellanos, in a great example of unexpectedly effective casting, gives Chief’s soliloquies the passionate touch of a slam poet. That is made particularly personal under Craig Fleming’s lighting.
Director David Blanchard’s wise decision to abandon the multipurpose room’s small stage for a floor-level performance has its disadvantages (sight and sound is sometimes muddled for the audience), but one of its biggest benefits is the easier flow of action in the large set piece.
It gives characters like Billy Bibbit (Jeremy Greifer), Dale Harding (Abigail Paternina), Candy (Kaytlin Bovey) and Sandra (Halley Sanchez) room to breathe and react. And the nurses in their nurse’s station are shielded from it all.
The next performances of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and then on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for adults are $10 at the door.