To wrap your mind around Jonathan Muñoz Proulx's production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" without going crazy yourself, you've got to separate the concept of the piece from the actual drama.
The concept is nutty but genius. Do an immersive production of a play about a psychiatric ward where you invite the audience to be inmates in your asylum. So here’s how that works for the audience: As you arrive for the production, you're asked to fill out a quick form about your "illness" you're given a hospital wristband, a gown - and you're admitted. You're led into the ward which is a large warehouse space filled with dangling edison bulbs. Immediately to your right is the "pharmacy" where you can fill your "oral prescription" (said more simply - there's a bar with pretty decent drinks).
For the first 30 minutes or so, the "inmates" are running the asylum. You're free to roam around the space with the other audience members. This is the immersive p art of the production - and it's fun if a little haphazard. Think a sort of simplified escape room vibe with a couple of puzzles for you to solve if you want. My advice, bring a couple of friends, definitely a have drink or two and follow the clues.
After roughly half an hour - the production starts and oddly that's kind of the end of the immersive experience. The show itself is basically a straightforward version of the play with audience sitting on either side of a long narrow playing space. Yes, a couple of times people switch seats but there's nothing terribly interactive about it.
As to the production itself, do you remember the Miloš Forman film with Jack Nicholson and Brad Dourif?
No matter, because this production clearly remembers it ... and in large part is offering a sort of simulacrum of it. A bit like going to Disneyland to see your favorite characters from a film. The result in a couple cases is impressive. Nurse Ratchet, Billy and the Chief all manage to wiggle a little bit of fresh life into their portrayals.
The trouble is the production ends up feeling like it's trying to recreate a completed idea rather than ask a fresh question. The drama is more played at than played. The scenes never really find the heart - so while the story happens it never really grips you.
As iconic as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is - it's surely ripe for a re-imagining. A charismatic hustler taking over an insane asylum while grifting it's inhabitants only to ultimately be lobotomized by a strong woman? Call me crazy, but I think that's a story that might play right now.
Ultimately, the experience of the evening is a little disjointed. If what you were expecting was a really immersive follow the action, be the story vibe - that's not this. If what you're looking for is a really riveting production of this script - yeah, not so much.
But here's the thing, it's a fun night. It's an experience. It's not just another night in the theater. On the night I went the audience was a good twenty years younger than your typical LA theater audience. That's impressive.
While I'm not sure the drama lives up to the concept, grab a couple friends and at the very least you'll have a story about the time you were almost committed to an insane asylum in the valley.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" plays in Burbank through July 22nd. Running time: 3 hours with one intermission.
Courtney Lloyd stars in the After Hours Theatre Company's immersive production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” adapted by Dale Wasserman and directed by Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx and now playing at the SIX01 Studio in Burbank. Photo credit: KJ Knies.