The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Nurse Ratched (Courtney Gray) tries to get the attention of mental health patients, Randle McMurphy (Jason Vernier, front), Scanlon (Adam B. Workman, back left), Martini (Luke McLaughlin), Dale Harding (Rob Lawson), Cheswick (Thom Johnson) and Billy Bibbit (Jacob Vernier) in the Hamilton County Theatre production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” opening Friday and continuing weekends through Feb. 18 at The Belfry Theatre in Noblesville.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Nurse Ratched (Courtney Gray) tries to get the attention of mental health patients, Randle McMurphy (Jason Vernier, front), Scanlon (Adam B. Workman, back left), Martini (Luke McLaughlin), Dale Harding (Rob Lawson), Cheswick (Thom Johnson) and Billy Bibbit (Jacob Vernier) in the Hamilton County Theatre production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” opening Friday and continuing weekends through Feb. 18 at The Belfry Theatre in Noblesville.
I didn’t want to look away. I might miss something.
Sitting in the audience, watching The Belfry Theatre’s dress rehearsals of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” this week, I couldn’t help but be drawn into this compelling dramatic comedy, which opens Friday in Noblesville and continues for three weekends.
If you ever watched the 1975 movie, starring Jack Nicholson, then you know what I’m talking about.
The classic, intriguing play based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name, is about how a criminal who manipulates the system by pleading insanity is serving his shortened sentence in a mental institution rather than prison, expecting to serve the rest of his time in luxury.
At The Belfry, Jason Vernier plays the lead role of the skull-cap-wearing Korean veteran Randle McMurphy, a charismatic rogue who inspires the scared patients to rebel against the head Nurse Ratched (a coveted women’s role, played by Courtney Gray).
Jason Vernier is spot-on as McMurphy, and for a moment, when he’s wearing the black skull cap, you might feel the presence of Nicholson, who won an Academy Award for the role.
Vernier’s son, Jacob Vernier, a Noblesville High School junior, plays a supporting role, Billy Bibbit, a studdering, scared momma’s boy who wants to please everybody while trying to be his own man. Jacob Vernier bears an uncanny and creepy resemblance to the film’s actor, Brad Dourif, a Golden Globe Award winner for his role.
Both Verniers are so convincing in their roles and could easily be nominated for the annual Encore Association community theater awards here in Central Indiana.
But every actor is convincing in their role, from Gray as the rule-following Nurse Ratched, to Rob Lawson as the ward’s most normal patient, Dale Harding, and Luke McLaughlin as Martini (whose film role was played by Danny DeVito), Tom Smith as Turkle, Jeff Coss as Ruckley and Thom Johnson as Cheswick, thanks to the excellent casting of the show’s director.
“I look for an actor who not only reads well, and looks the part, but one who has the essence of the character,” said Jen Otterman, the show’s director.
She cast her husband, Chris Otterman, as Chief Bromden, a Native-American Indian with schitzophrenia whose nickname is “Chief Broom” because the mental institution’s aides make him sweep the halls. He narrates the play while sharing the story of his own journey to sanity. Jen Otterman said her husband, who’s been acting since age 7, auditioned for her and takes her direction and implements it well. The couple met doing summer theater and they once owned their own traveling theatrical company.
She said her key to success is choosing actors skilled with comedic timing and who can also transition into more somber moments.
Jen Otterman is a first-time director at The Belfry who is a retired drama and language arts teacher at Hamilton Southeastern High School, where she spent 29 years teaching four levels of acting and directing more than 60 shows.
She directed “Cuckoo’s Nest” years ago at HSE and ran props on a production of it at Red Barn Summer Theatre in Frankfort. It’s the third time for the play on The Belfry stage; the first time was during the 1977-78 season, directed by former NHS teacher Jim Bray, and during the 2005-06 season, directed by Karla Ries.
Jen Otterman chose the play because she said, “I love it...the messages in it. And I am a sucker for stories about rebels who try to buck the corrupt system.”
She calls herself a “seeker.” Jen Otterman looks for deeper meanings, messages and truisms in events and story lines and literature which, she said, “connects us” and “makes us feel part of something that is bigger than ourselves.”
Her favorite lesson from the storyline: “Friendship is invaluable,” is discovered among the liberating chaos in actions that never leave the mental hospital.”
While the film was rated R, the Belfry play is rated PG-13, having removed particular language that The Belfry requested cut. However, keeping with the playwright’s intention, she has kept some of the “smoking,” by using herbal cigarettes, though much of the smoking has been eliminated “out of respect for the audience.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.