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Ego Trip

Henley Street confronts the second season slump with “Cuckoo's Nest.”

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The reputation of a new theater company teeters in its second season, because the company must prove to patrons that it has the artistic mettle to succeed in the long term.

So it's a pretty gutsy move for Henley Street Theatre Company to put an untried director at the helm of a play that's best known as a beloved film classic — its origins get confusing, at least. But the gamble pays off with the production of Dale Wasserman's play adaptation of Ken Kesey's “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” This show more than compensates for the technically challenged Pine Camp Arts and Community Center.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” is an ode to Freud's theory of the psychological battle between the human id's impulsiveness and the superego's perfectionism. The battle is played out through the id, McMurphy (Jeff Cole), and the control-driven superego, Nurse Ratched (Leslie Cline), for both the benefit and expense of the patients in a psychiatric ward.

Director Brad Tuggle casts this show to great effect mostly from outside the Henley Street ensemble actors. Cline's Nurse Ratched is chillingly real in her control-freak stoicism, an excellent sparring partner for Cole's carefree McMurphy. Particularly moving is their final scene together, when Nurse Ratched shows a soft side to McMurphy following her victory.

Brandon Crowder yanks audience heartstrings as the stuttering mama's boy, Billy Bibbitt, who suffers the most from the Ratched-McMurphy power struggle.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” represents the level of theater that Henley Street has promised in its mission statement. If it can keep up this quality — or continue to improve — it can expect to have a long, healthy, theatrical life in Richmond. S

Henley Street Theatre Company's “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” runs through Jan. 31 at Pine Camp Arts and Community Center, 4901 Old Brook Road. Tickets are $20. Call 340-0115 or visit www.henleystreettheatre.org.

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