One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Cuckoo cast cheerTo maintain the kind of theatre schedule I have with the Gentle Guide, some would call me crazy. But I’m as sane as can be, just very passionate about what I’m doing. There’s another kind of crazy out there, and it’s still a question of who is sane, and who might not be. Welcome to the state hospital, the nurses and patients, and Carousel Theatre of Indianola’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Mental Conflict

Director Michele Larche is the one in charge of this group involved in bringing the Ken Kesey’s novel to life. She gets to help bring forth this battle of wills between the authoritarian Nurse Rached (played by Deb Hade) and new patient McMurphy (Chris Williams). McMurphy is initially sent to the facility as a substitute for a jail sentence (he’s faking the insanity, figuring it will be an easy way to serve the time). But personalities and circumstances might have a different outcome in mind.
MIchele Larche“As it says in the play,” says Larche, “society defines who is crazy or not. I feel McMurphy represents ‘the wolf’ as [fellow patient] Harding describes him. Is he faking it? Yes. Is he sane? I think yes. Does he belong in a psych hospital? No. Will he ever adapt to society? No. And that is the tragedy Kesey has created with this character.”
“His reaction to Rached is real. She emasculates everyone around her. Who will be the Alpha in this pack? Alpha vs. Alpha. Who will back down or go down? This conflict moves the plot to an inevitable conclusion.”
McMurphy becomes a leader amongst the other patients, although not necessarily at first. As Williams describes his character, “I find that he views his stay similar to his prison time where he establishes himself as top dog and isn’t ashamed of working over the ‘schmucks’ to get a little green. However, throughout the show he finds that the other patients in the ward are in need of a wakeup call to regain their lost confidence and humanity. So his motivation shifts from ‘serve time and get money’ to ‘let’s bring down the power structure to show they can’t abuse ‘us’ (the patients)’. When it comes to Ratched, she is the absolute power that McMurphy despises. He is a free soul that can’t be tied down and Ratched stands for all that McMurphy does not.”
Cuckoo Deb HadeAs Ratched, Deb Hade is on the other side of this tug-of-war to determine who’s really in charge. “The challenge for me is to show her as controlled and controlling, and then have that control be shattered by McMurphy’s presence on the ward.  In her obsession to maintain that control, she will take truly evil actions.”

Area Conflict

This production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is in a different venue from usual for Carousel. Instead of the local Methodist Church, Nest will be presented at the Better Homes and Gardens office in Indianola. Hade tells why this choice was made. “In terms of the space, we needed to look for a different venue because of the nature and language of the show.  It was not suitable to be performed in the Methodist Church Parish Hall.  I believe that this space will offer the audience a very intimate, up close view of the performance.  We plan to have the audience up on risers and the stage will be the floor.  Even with the smaller space, we think we can seat at least 75 people.  As actors, we will have two sides of audience members watching us.  That is an adjustment, but it is also a bit freeing to not just “face out.”
Cuckoo stage“This particular space is both cramped and intimate,” says Williams. “I find this type of theater to be very challenging and under the right circumstances can be used to great effect. We do have to keep in mind where sight lines are and making sure that we don’t block one another more than absolutely necessary. I personally have been in many a show where the audience is in close proximity to the actors and I enjoy the challenge.”
Director Larche is looking forward to creating this world in the new venue. “A play such as this lends itself to a small intimate setting. The audience should feel they are in the dayroom too. The tension, joy, and humor will happen with them. Actually, with all the challenges of adapting to this space, we have had some very creative and ingenious planning and execution. Lighting, set, and staging have been a collaboration with talented people up to the challenge.”

Version Conflict

Cuckoo Chris WilliamsWhen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is mentioned, many people typically think of the movie version of the story, which won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, and Best Director. So you might believe there’s a bit of pressure on the local director and leads for their own interpretations. But any pressure they may feel is what they’ve put on themselves, and has nothing to do with the movie. 
“I saw the movie when it first came out and I think I was in college at the time,” says Hade. “I haven’t seen it since and I did that on purpose. I am so influenced by other’s portrayal of characters and knew that it would be impossible for me not to copy what I see. I did read the book to gain more insight into my character and the other characters in the show. So, I’m trying not to be like Louise Fletcher and am trying to make Ratched my own.”
Cuckoo Williams 2The same goes for Williams, and making sure he’s not playing McMurphy the way that Jack Nicholson did in the movie. “I am not at all familiar with the film, and I prefer it that way. When I take on a role I want the interpretation of the role to be fully my own and without the influence of another actor’s interpretation in my head.”
Director Larche wants everything to go back to the source material, Ken Kesey’s book. “We have had no interest in the movie, but most of us have reread the book. It is the reference we use for critical decisions about character. We were so worried about staying away from stereotypes, but Kesey did that for us. Never has he painted a ‘crazy’ character. Through [the narrator’s] eyes we see the humanity and struggle of people who don’t fit someone’s definition of ‘normal.’ The words of Kesey have been our guide.”
Cuckoo sessionHade is hopeful that presenting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest now, decades after it was originally written, will re-examine the way people with mental issues are cared for. “I think that mental health has become a very real concern in recent years. Treatment options have changed but questions remain. What is the best way to treat the mentally ill? Is what we do with medication, institutionalization, and analysis working and meeting the needs of the patients and society at large? Has the current standard of care been evaluated as to its effectiveness? These are important questions to ponder and I hope that this show will prompt discussion and awareness.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest will be performed by Carousel Theatre of Indianola for one weekend only, March 14-17, at the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Innovations building (117 E. Salem in Indianola). Tickets are available at the door, but get there early as seating is limited.
Photos courtesy of Carousel Theatre of Indianola and Alex Lindsey

Carousel Theatre of Indianola Deb Hade Chris Williams Mickie Larche