If you haven't caught The Theatre, Inc.'s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest since March 6 at the Ark Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown, you have company. Despite the reported sellouts prior to that date, nobody else has had a crack at it, either, not even Theatre, Inc. producer Melissa Hamilton.
And Hamilton's in the play.
A rental dispute has forced the closure of the show at the venue, and it's virtually certain Hamilton's company will neither ask to return nor be invited back. The good news is twofold: Cuckoo's Nest is a wonderful production, and it's found a place to finish its run. The sad part is traceable to a lack of planning, the kind that dogs downtown theater ad nauseam. This latest flap, so easily preventable with some well-intentioned foresight, has festered into a tiny little cuckoo's nest of its own.
Y'all know the script, since you've seen the 1975 movie and maybe given Ken Kesey's novel of the same name a try before that. Dale Wasserman's stage adaptation is faithful to both, centering on mental patient Randall P. McMurphy (Giancarlo Ruiz) and his battle for supremacy with Mildred Ratched (Bonnie Stone), a floor nurse at Oregon State Hospital. Lurking in back is Chief Bromden (Brian Abraham), whose courage and love for Randall spawn his break from the seemingly inescapable institution. Director Doug Lay freely embraces the symbolism within each character—Randall's gruesome humiliation at Ratched's hands is no match for human longing, even as it sometimes requires custodial care in the interest of its owner's safety.
What sends this show over the top is the stellar work by the inmates themselves. Just as one retreats into his grotesque affectations, a second assumes absolute lucidity; the next minute, they'll trade those extremes, fueling and coloring the contentiousness between Ratched and McMurphy. Even Nurse Flinn, who has all of two or three lines, becomes a fine little character amid Cristyn Chandler's exacting face and body language. This is absolutely amazing ensemble work, primarily because it's worlds harder than it looks.
And unless you go to Twiggs Tea & Coffee Co. on Park Blvd., you can't see it. As cool as Twiggs is, it's an unwitting latecomer in the flap between The Theatre's Hamilton and Pandeli Lazaridi, the Ark landlord. At issue is a $6,140 rent premium, payable for six weeks' use of the theater. Lazaridi contended that the money trickled in, in amounts far short of his expectations. “I was not able to continue,” Lazaridi said, “because I was not getting any money back after the performances.”
“I pay my bills,” Hamilton countered. “This was never an issue about getting paid. This was an issue about how much I should arbitrarily give him [at various periods during The Theatre's occupancy] and about him becoming irate and locking us out.”
In either case, the hard evidence is sketchy to boot—because neither The Theatre nor Lazaridi signed a lease on the rent premium or use of the space. That is an absolutely colossal misstep, especially if theater seeks to gain legitimate partnership downtown amid dizzying development. The army of downtown residential contractors, after all, commit their bids to paper in some form; in a rental context, it's vital that the theater landlords and their tenants be held to the same standard. There's enough out of place in San Diego performance art already. This review is based on the matinée performance on March 2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest runs through March 29 at Twiggs Tea & Coffee Co., 4590 Park Blvd. in University Heights. $22-$25. 619-216-3016 or www.thetheatreinc.com.