The classic Ken Kesey tale of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest follows the antics of rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy, who fakes insanity in order to serve a criminal sentence in a mental hospital rather than in prison. McMurphy’s charisma empowers the ward patients, but the stakes grow dangerous when McMurphy crosses tyrannical Nurse Ratched.
Knowing that Back Alley Productions is a company that likes to push boundaries, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected from them. Having watched them grow from their roots at the Colonnade Center in Ringgold, Georgia, to their infamous annual Shakespeare tour around the Chattanooga and North Georgia area, and even more recently their move to the Mars Theatre in Lafayette, Georgia in May of last year, I’ve not only witnessed them push the boundaries of theatre but also expand their own boundaries to achieve this growth.
It’s exciting watching their story unfold; passionate artists piecing together whatever resources they happen to have at their disposal and using those resources to make the most impact possible in the theatre community.
Because of those reasons, I was excited to witness their performance of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to think of a production company doing two plays back to back that were mounted on Broadway and that later went on to become blockbuster films staring Jack Nicholson after they recently closed A Few Good Men. I mean, that’s kind of crazy in its own right, right? But again, it’s Back Alley Productions, so the unexpected experimental choices of their 2017 season didn’t really surprise me too much. I for one am interested to see the results of those experiments. I believe firmly that in order for Chattanooga to take its rightful place in theatre history, it’s going to be from companies who make bold, news worthy advances in theatre. Safe, common, and easy choices are not news worthy.
When I left the performance of Cuckoo’s nest, I had never been more excited and optimistic about the future of Chattanooga theatre. It wasn’t just a privilege, but an honor to be able to experience this particular piece of theatre. It’s one of those shows that has a lasting ripple, one you know with certainty is a sign of what’s to come. It was a firm in utero kick of what I am confident is a precursor to the birth of the area’s theatre renaissance.
For me personally, theatre excites me because it is a living art form. As a living art, it has the potential to grip you, grabbing you by the chest and thrusting you into a world of the artist’s creation to places your own two feet could never reach otherwise. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an example of a production that does just that. Even further, it doesn’t just grip you, it engages you. Their brilliant use of the space at the Mars Theatre immerses you into the experience. After a while, you witness reality melt away and begin to believe wholeheartedly that you are sitting in the common room of a loony bin. There were even times that I forgot that I couldn’t be harmed by nurse Ratched, the play’s antagonist, and forgot that she was a character being played by the amazingly talented Rebecca Brown Lapp alongside her equally talented daughter Sarah Lapp who played nurse Flinn.
One of the things that shocked me to learn was that Emily Miller, a veteran of Back Alley productions, is making her directing debut with this show. Just as impressive, Jared Nipper, cast as McMurphy, the play’s lead and protagonist, is making his acting debut (or re-debut if you want to count high school productions he was involved with x amount of years ago.) Both Emily’s staging and Jared’s mastery of his character are far beyond the level of experience both have and show a true, raw talent that I for one can not wait to see more of and am anxiously excited to see that talent develop.
Other notable performances included Greg Guinn as Chief Bromden who gave a powerfully and emotionally raw performance, David Howard as Martini who played the character with exceptional and quite believable insanity, Tommy White as Dale Harding, and Zachery Green, both of whom I’ve come to expect great performances from.
Back Alley Productions will perform One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest May 5-21, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Mars Theatre. The theater is at 117 N. Chattanooga St. in LaFayette.
The show will last approximately two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission. Tickets can be purchased online at BAPshows.com or in-person at the box office.
*Audiences are advised that the show contains strong language and mature content.