One year ago, Hudson Theatre Works introduced itself to Hudson County and the surrounding area with a resounding production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” and, in doing so set a high standard for future shows. Now, the company returns with a new production of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The show premiered last Friday, May 10, and will run Thursdays through Sundays until May 24 at the Theatre at Weehawken High School, the company’s new (and hopefully permanent) home.
The play, “a boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering” story, follows a group of mental patients. It focuses on Nurse Ratched, who maintains order and control in their day-to-day lives, and a rebellious newcomer named McMurphy, who ultimately sends the rigid nature of the ward into chaos.
The play stars Terence MacSweeny (Redrum and Celebrity Ghost Stories) and Leigh Anne West (You’ve Got Hate Mail and Scare Zone) as McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, respectively.
“Cuckoo’s Nest,” like last year’s production of “Of Mice and Men,” is a historical piece. But also like the Steinbeck production, the show was chosen by Frank Licato, the troupe’s artistic director, because the themes explored in the show are still relevant today.
“[The play] is a very iconic and basic idea – you can let the world pass you by or you can take part in it.” – Frank Licato
Licato said another reason for choosing “Cuckoo’s Nest” is to give people a chance to experience Hudson Theatre Works through well-known plays.
“It’s really only our second year and it’s important for us to be able to build an audience, so that people are used to us being around and the types of plays we like to do. These are iconic plays, we don’t have to explain them to the audience when they come, and they have an idea of what it’s going to be about,” he said. “We like the idea of trying to establish a foothold, and these titles were both recognizable.”
Licato says that the story is ultimately one that the audience, insane or not, can identify with.
“In the end it’s about making the ultimate sacrifice so that others might have a chance to have a say in their community,” he said. “It’s a very iconic and basic idea – you can let the world pass you by or you can take part, either by believing, like Ratched does, that rules are meant to be followed or, like McMurphy, that they’re there to be broken.”
New home, more shows
For “Of Mice and Men,” Hudson Theatre Works relied on the Park Theater in Union City. But in searching for a new home, Licato met with Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who was interested in bringing the company to his waterfront township.
“We’ve started to describe ourselves as a company that does productions with Off-Broadway values at an affordable price, and that’s something that [Turner] was interested in bringing to Weehawken,” said Licato. “We’re growing very quickly; it’s a bigger set and bigger cast. We’ve been very lucky to have Mayor Turner’s support, it’s been incredible.”
In addition to using the high school auditorium for the company’s bigger productions, Hudson Theatre Works is also utilizing an iconic local landmark, the Weehawken Water Tower, for its smaller shows.
After Turner attended a performance of “Of Mice and Men,” Licato said, the mayor became interested in the company and offered to help in any way possible. Licato told Turner in a meeting that space was the biggest challenge, and Turner suggested using the water tower. It’s been difficult for the township to find use for it because they haven’t been able to get it handicapped certified, but the company only requires the use of the ground floor, said Licato.
“It’s gorgeous inside, and I thought it’d be perfect for [our smaller shows],” he said in October, when a series of short plays, called PlayWorks, premiered there. “And I think there’s generally just going to be some excitement just from people being allowed to get in there. No one’s seen the inside in so many years.”
Once “Cuckoo’s Nest” concludes its run later this month, the company will immediately be looking to its next productions, said Licato. For the first time, Hudson Theatre Works is doing two plays in a season.
“In the Fall we’re moving back to the tower and do our readings again and also a one-man-show called ‘Three Men,’ by Michael Foley, about his experiences with three men who influenced his life,” said Licato.
He also said that the company is moving in a direction that allows it to produce well-known classics, like “Cuckoo’s Nest,” as well as original pieces like “Three Men.”
“We’re busy raising funds and it’s important for the community to know we can’t do this without their help. Hopefully by doing two more next year, an original one and a classic, people will support us. That’s sort of our direction, promoting original work and also putting on classic shows,” he said.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” will run at the Weehawken High School Auditorium from May 10 to May 24, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 each, with senior and student discounts available. For more information, visit www.hudsontheatreworks.org.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com