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Star Bar Players and Theatre 'd Art open 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'
Who: Theatre ‘d Art and Star Bar Players
Cast: Jason Lythgoe, Alysabeth Clements, Jon Andujar, Greg Lanning, Christian O’Shaughnessy, Dylan Mosley, Jim Campbell, Kevin McGuire.
Playwright: Dale Wasserman
Director: Michael Lee
Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
When: Opens Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17 and 24. Runs through Feb. 24.
Where: Theatre ‘d Art, 128 N. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $15, $10 seniors and military, $5 students with ID, Sunday Special pay what you can and members of Theatre ‘d Art; 357-8321, theatredart.org, starbarplayers.org
A rebel with a cause will never go out of style. A rebel without a cause might just land in a mental institution.
Jack Nicholson won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Randle P. McMurphy in the 1975 film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The film, which was based on the Ken Kesey’s 1962 book, swept the Oscars, taking Best Picture, Director, Actress and Writing. Kesey was said to be extremely unhappy with the film and even sued its producers because it veered away so greatly from his novel.
The playwright Dale Wasserman adapted Kesey’s book for Broadway in 1963, and stayed much more truthful to the original story. It opens Friday at Theatre ‘d Art, and is part of the company’s “The Road to Upheaval” season. It is also a first-time co-production with the Star Bar Players.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says director Michael Lee.
In the play, McMurphy has been charged with statutory rape. He fakes mental illness to avoid prison time, and is sentenced to a psychiatric hospital in Oregon. The feared Nurse Ratched heads the ward he’s droppedassigned to.
Even though the local play is set in 1962, it could be any year. Kesey worked as an attendant in the psychiatric ward at a veterans hospital in California, and while he was there, volunteered for drug experiments. Those experiences became the basis for his book. In the book, he questions authority and our reactions to it, the questionable treatment of the mentally ill and the shaky power dynamics between both men and women and those of different races.
The issues are still relevant, believes Alysabeth Clements, who plays Ratched.
“It’s about the struggle to stay human in a bureaucratized society,” says Clements, who is also Star Bar’s artistic director. “We are surrounded by people living lives of constant desperation.”
The Theatre ‘d Art space was transformed into a mental institution for a recent weekend rehearsal. A gaggle of familiar local actors bustled about the space, preparing for a scene in which they all make a basketball layup through an imaginary “hoop” — or the arms of one of the ward’s patients.
McMurphy, played by Jason Lythgoe, wears his character’s iconic black, woolen cap, presides over the action. Looming nearby is the play and novel’s narrator, Chief Bromden, played by Jon Andujar. The film turned the schizophrenic Native American character into a mere background figure, one reason Kesey said he would never watch it.
McMurphy is the anti-hero the audience unwittingly roots for, even though he’s clearly no innocent.
“Everyone likes rooting for somebody who’s rattling the system,” Andujar says.
Ratched is the authority figure pressing McMurphy to bow to her will. Throughout the play, the two circle each other like predator and prey, and the game eventually comes to a tragic head.
“He just wants freedom, and to do what he wants. He doesn’t want to worry about who’s around,” Lythgoe said. “That’s what makes him a psychopath.”
And Nurse Ratched?
“She just wants some order,” Clements said.
There are 18 actors in the cast, quite a herd for Lee’s first time directing a full-length play. He says it helps that he’s “in love with the story.”
“It’s a classic play and movie,” he said. “It will always be relevant and meaningful. It’s important to re-introduce it to younger generations.”
Jennifer Mulson may be reached at 636-0270.