A gambler, convicted felon, and probable psychopath thinks he’s found an easy out to his five month sentence in a work camp and plays up his violent outbursts to get himself sent off to a minimum security mental institution. There, he forms an immediately antagonistic relationship with the nurse in charge and bad things happen.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a classic novel that was quickly adapted for Broadway, and also spawned a multiple Academy Award winning movie. It has good pedigree and On Stage reviewer, Caitlin Oleson covered OLT’s opening night with nothing but praise. Go give her review a read for that take on it because I thought, in all frankness, that it was pretty much horrible.
What I knew about Cuckoo’s Nest going in were only those gems you pick up by osmosis from the existence of an acclaimed classic movie. Namely that Nurse Ratchet was intended to be a passively cruel and tyrannical antagonist, making patient McMurphy an underdog fighting for the underdogs under her heel.
But that’s not what I saw on the OLT stage.
There was no sense of ill motives from Nurse Ratchet (Linda Webster) or any feeling that she was abusing her patients, mistreating them, or doing anything but her job. Enter McMurphy, (Jon Payne) a boisterous rabble rouser who totes made me think of how Donald Trump would be if he were locked in an institution. Mac defies all authority in sad attempts to ensure his status as the Alpha Dog, not even allowing the aides to follow admissions protocol. He makes fast friends with the inmates, but he’s loud, forceful, and charismatic, and his fellows were all in the institute because they were effectively sheep. McMurphy was their David Koresh or Jim Jones.
Nurse Ratchet was resultingly the sympathetic one as the only person capable of trying to keeping McMurphy or the other inmates in step (not to mention, safe). The ward aides both looked and were totally ineffectual. The head doctor appeared hopelessly inept to the point of almost goofiness. And to top it all off, Nurse Ratchet had seemingly limited tools available to enforce order when things got out of hand. Electro-shock and, in extreme cases, lobotomy. It may not have made a lot of sense, but there it was.
In the show I saw, Nurse Ratchet was the set upon protagonist doing her best to simply do her job against an antagonist who was trying to bring the system crashing down with no regard to any of those he manipulated. And who, don’t forget was a convicted felon and violent offender that was trying to game the system. Not one person in the play was better off for knowing McMurphy and in the end, he got exactly what he deserved.
Standing in comparison to what the source material was intended to be, I call this an interesting reflection of how interpretation affects storytelling, but on its own merits, the story told by OLT’S Cuckoo Nest was simply contemptible.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think? I know a lot of people enjoyed the show so where did you sit? Had you seen or read the movie or book before? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest runs now through March 12th at the Ottawa Little Theatre. More info: http://www.ottawalittletheatre.com/one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest/