I must admit that I was ecstatic to be seeing an adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, having seen the film version many times. Theatre Western did not disappoint in delivering an excellent staging of the story beloved by many, and adapted into three different mediums. First time Director Sasha Luna along with her producers Madison Oliver and Elise Gabriele, has crafted a refined and topical production, one that allows its story to be hinged on the performances of its actors. The entire cast rises to the challenge, providing splendid and nuanced takes on the familiar characters.
Starring as R.P. McMurphy in the role Jack Nicholson made famous, is Jack Copland. McMurphy is a convict who decides to finish what is left of his prison sentence in the ostensibly cozy confines of a mental ward. Once there, McMurphy finds a group of men with a myriad of mental illnesses, and makes it his mission to infect them with his own particular brand of mental illness. McMurphy’s brand includes most prominently gambling, women, and most of all, combating the austere Nurse Ratched (Helen Heikkila) who is in charge of the ward.
McMurphy makes it his business, as well as his mission, to disrupt the conservatively sedated lifestyle Nurse Ratched has spent her career instilling on the ward. Copland and Heikkila put forth highly evocative performances, and without their ample chemistry and believability, the production would be without tension or impact. McMurphy summarizes 1960’s mental health treatment as “Chickens at a pecking party,” endlessly prying into one’s subconscious seemingly without benefit or non-sadistic purpose. On the ward run by Nurse Ratched and the overrun Dr. Spivey (Jake Valentine) this seems an apt description.
McMurphy and Ratched’s subjects are played by a group of actors who are collectively impeccable, and provide a balanced look at what it is like living with mental illness. Chief (Alexendar Gammel), Billy (Jack Phoenix), Harding (Colt Forgave), Cheswick (Danny Avila), Scanlon (Kyle Stark), Martine (Eric Yanofsky), and the foul-mouthed Ruckley (Tyler Boulanger) compose the souls for whom McMurphy is fighting. The majority are in the facility voluntarily, but it is in McMurphy and his unconventionally rational rhetoric they find the solace they so desperately seek, rather than in medicine. This is particularly evident in Chief, a believed mute for whom McMurphy becomes the strength he needs to “(be) made big again.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a production that remains contemporary despite it having been in existence for 53 years. This is due not only to it being well written, but also to the continued poor state of mental health treatments and awareness. The story continues to display that sometimes all mental illness requires is acceptance and advocates, rather than permeating stigmatization.
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