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REVIEW: DWU, ACT production 'one of the best' for area

Most people will easily recognize the title of the fall production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and many of those will have seen the movie.

But to have the opportunity to see the stage play as adapted by Dale Wasserman from the book by Ken Kesey is a real treat.

The Dakota Wesleyan Theatre department and Mitchell Area Community Theatre have formally collaborated to stage one of the best productions I have ever had the privilege to see in Mitchell.

"Cuckoo's Nest" is quintessential '60s protest theatre. It pits Randle Patrick McMurphy -- a convict who has manipulated the system, or thinks he has, by feigning psychosis so he can spend the final months of his sentence at a mental institution rather than a work farm -- against Nurse Ratched, the stony, no-nonsense head nurse of the ward, who believes that rules must be followed without exception.

Director Daniel Miller has had the good fortune to find just the right cast members. The blend of DWU drama students with ACT veteran performers brings a level of talent to the perfectly designed and lighted set that elevates the viewer to another place.

I found myself completely unaware of my surroundings several times during the show as the characters came to life without the distraction of missed cues or misfired effects that can sometimes hamper amateur or college theatre productions.

The loud, boisterous lead character, McMurphy, is outstandingly played by Chris Ferera. His energy level and physical antics are unstoppable until the final scene.

An equally powerful performance is delivered with nuance and quiet grace by Ryan Antaya in the role of Chief Bromden. ACT veteran actors Kurt Schwarzenbart, Al Jacklin, Aaron Krumholz and Roger Allen fill the roles of the various inmates of the asylum, each in need of treatment for a variety of mental illnesses. Kyle Gilles takes the Mitchell stage for the first time ever as Billy Bibbit, the stammering, suicidal, eager-to-please young man who looks to Nurse Ratched as a surrogate to his domineering, unseen mother.

Moe Webster embraces the steely inflexibility of Nurse Ratched who will not be challenged in her own domain. Her methods are even questioned by Dr. Spivey (Jeff Holstein) who finds himself occasionally swayed by McMurphy's cleverly hatched plans for insurrection. Also watch for a humorous turn by DWU student Michael Stier as the aide who allows things to get out of hand one fateful night.

Miller's incredible set design is one of the best I have seen on the ACT stage. Small details like the working black and white television, the cluttered bulletin boards and the crow's nest where Ratched can view her charges like pawns on a chessboard all serve to transport the audience to an institutional reality faced by many mental patients in past decades.

In his director's comments, Miller makes reference to an "official" partnership between DWU and ACT. I personally have had many opportunities over the years to engage in shared resources between the two organizations. I give the highest marks to both ACT and DWU for finding a way to bring such a quality theatrical performance to our community, and I can't way to see what they collaborate on next time.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre, or more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.

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