Review: Beyond The Cuckoo’s Nest (YPT)

Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest at Young People’s Theatre sheds light on mental health issues

My first real, coherent thought, five minutes into Beyond The Cuckoo’s Nest: “The people who made this should make more things. Things that can be appreciated by people who love the theatre.”

My next coherent thought, a couple minutes later: “Thank goodness these people make theatre for teenagers. This is the kind of thing that turns them into people who love theatre.”

I mean, listen. I love YPT, and I have seen fantastic work there, and I know good and well that their production values are serious business, but the talent assembled on this project is tremendous, full of the kind of synergies theatregoers adore. Soo Garay is in it, and when Soo Garay is in anything you know it cannot help but have marvelous moments because she makes them. Here, as the adult facilitator of a group for youth with mental illnesses, she brings her particular talents to bear – how very present she is in her look, how responsive in her energy, how she waits and works in a scene, the slight tremor of her body which together with her deep groundedness always puts me in mind of a tall, old-growth tree.

I heard three verses and the choruses from everyone last Fringe season about David Patrick Fleming in Raton Laveur, how smart and intense and inexorably crazypants he became over the course of the show, which earned top marks all over the place. He’s the original Flubber here, boinging off everyone and everything, gaining energy as he goes. When things go wrong – and they do – he’s so scary and scared I found myself grinding my teeth with anxiety for him. Er, his character.

Miranda Edwards and Brendan McMurtry-Howlett round out the youth group in less flashy roles than Fleming’s Jude, but they son’t slouch in his shadow. Edwards’ Patricia is legitimately all over the place, reflexive and reflective in the particular way of teenaged girls, trying to understand herself by projecting a character that fits the moment until something sticks. Trey, played by McMurtry-Howlett, is an avoidant jock who simply wants to be Normal, with a father who enforces that endeavor vigorously. A lesser actor might have played Trey in a single, toe-scuffing note, but McMurtry-Howlett makes use of everything playwright Edward Roy gives him, using a remarkably developed array of teenaged tones and inflections to play it on.

In general, I prefer fewer technical elements to more of them. I mention this so you’ll know how much of a compliment I intend to pay when I say that Andy Moro’s projections onstage throughout functioned almost as a fifth character for me. Moro, who in another incarnation is codirector of the Kensington Festival of Lights, does absolutely brilliant things here. His projection is like magic, generous without ever being too much; never ever distracting or pulling focus. It makes me wish I were doing a show that could support projections sometime soon, so I could hire him.

My sole complaint: there was quite a bit of swearing, I think to make the kids feel as if the play was, you know, on their level. On their side. Instead, it provoked giggle-fits in the teenagers every time, distracting from the action onstage. If I were Edward Roy, I’d go back and edit them out – the actors do plenty to get the youth audience feel seen, heard, and understood. A sprinkling of unprintable words is just distracting.

This show is aimed at teenagers, but I’d encourage adult theatregoers to see this anyhow, if only to enjoy the craft, which is present in spades.


– Beyond The Cuckoo’s Nest plays at Young People’s Theatre, at 165 Front St E in Toronto until 17 May.

– Performances are at 10:15am and 1pm for the remainder of the run

– Tickets cost between $10 and $20 and can be had online or by calling 416.862.2222