Because it has so many different interpretations, on so many different levels, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was named one of the 100 Best English–Language Novels by Time magazine in 2005.
The darkly comic story of an Oregon mental hospital, its troubled patients and the controlling nurse who runs things with an iron first, Cuckoo’s Nest was written in 1959, and made its stage debut (in an adaptation by Dale Wasserman) four years later.
It’s the Wasserman script that Christopher Soucy is directing this month at the Indigo Arts Center. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest opens Friday, June 4.
“I don’t consider it a period piece; I consider it a human conflict piece, a story about the trials of conformity,” says Soucy, who last directed Twelve Angry Men at Indigo.
“It has to do with people who feel they have no place. Ken Kesey worked in a mental health facility, and he wrote this based on experiences he had. He saw how people get swallowed up by the system, and how it wasn’t necessarily to their benefit. If you give a person a place to hide, they will.”
The central character is Randle Patrick McMurphy, who’s had himself transferred to the institution from a prison work farm – the idea being he can serve out his sentence in relative comfort, looney tunes being preferable to hardened criminals.
At first, the freewheeling, loose–tongued McMurphy uses his fellow patients for his own amusement. As time goes on, however, he gets to know and even love them, and ultimately leads the rebellion against the tyrannical Nurse Ratched.
Griffin, who was last seen as G.W. in Bay Street Theatre’s hilarious Sordid Lives, plays McMurphy.
“I guess he’s the embodiment of the revolutionary thing that was about to take place around the time the play was written,” Griffin says. “He loves a good time, he loves life, he loves seeing people happy and having fun.
“And he hates anybody that would try to take that away – the system that just sort of seeks to crush people and compartmentalize them.”
As happens often in community theater, Griffin had to step up to the plate relatively late in the game.
“I was extremely nervous at first, because I was supposed to play a character that has three lines,” he explains. “But we had some people drop out, so I ended up with McMurphy. I had to switch gears and go ‘Oh, I have to memorize now.’”
The cast also includes Sheila Lynne Bolda as Nurse Ratched, Justin Usry as the stuttering young patient Billy Bibbet, Walter Mangunson as Harding, and Soucy himself as the play’s narrator, the Native American known as Chief Bromden.
Of course, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was made into an Academy Award–winning film in 1975. Jack Nicholson won his first Oscar, for his wild-eyed portrayal of Randle McMurphy. As Ratched, Louise Fletcher - never, it seems, to turn up again in an A-list film - also won the big trophy.
The stage version, Soucy explains, will play out a little differently for audiences. “It’s overshadowed, in some regards, by a tremendously popular movie, dealing with who these characters are as created in the movie.”
For Griffin, the stage McMurphy represents something entirely new.
“Playing him is interesting,” he says. “Because normally I’m not the kind of person that’s that comfortable in my own skin. And confident.
“So it’s been a polar opposite to end up playing a guy who’s so confident in his abilities. And such a rebel.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Where: Indigo Arts Center, 703D Louisville Road
When: At 8 p.m. June 4, 5, 11, 12; at 3 p.m. June 6, 13
Tickets: $10 general admission, $5 students, seniors at military