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Cuckoos Nest rages against the machine


Brain-slicing out of date, but not Kesey's Cuckoo

by: COURTESY PHOTO: THEATRE IN THE GROVE - Randle P. McMurphy, played by Stevo Clay (center, in hat, crouching over table), plays cards with the other patients at the psychiatric hospital where he challenges the all-powerful Nurse Ratched in Theatre in the Groves production of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.Seeing or reading “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”— a critically acclaimed book made even more famous by the Oscar-winning 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson — is kind of a required baptism for Oregonians. Or, it should be.

The book was written in 1962 by Ken Kesey, who many consider Oregon’s (and perhaps America’s) greatest writer. Parts of the movie were shot on the grounds of the old Oregon State Hospital in Salem. And the movie swept the Academy Awards with Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. Nearly 40 years later, it still holds up as a masterpiece.

Those who’ve missed the movie and the book — or those who haven’t but still want more — now have another option: A stage adaptation opens Friday at Theatre in the Grove. Mature audiences and baby boomers are welcome, but the younger crowd who flocked to TITG’s last show, “The Little Mermaid”? Not so much.

For those who don’t know the story, the boisterous, brawling Randle P. McMurphy feigns mental illness to escape a lengthy stay at the work-farm penitentiary. He is transferred to a psychiatric hospital, where he meets a motley group of patients, who are kept drugged, broken and subservient under the merciless regime of Nurse Ratched.

At least that's how McMurphy sees it.

Anita Zijdemans-Boudreau, the Pacific University education professor who plays Ratched, said the psychiatric nurse is not to blame.

“She doesn't see herself as evil,” said Zijdemans-Boudreau, who researched her character to improve her performance. “She's basically a very efficient nurse doing her job well.”

Still, she acknowledges, “Everybody hates Nurse Ratched.”

Opening his fellow patients’ minds to the power of revolution, McMurphy rallies them to challenge Ratched's authority. The uprising develops into an all-out war between staff and patients.

Directed by TITG veteran Dan Harry, the production features Stevo Clay as McMurphy.

Many scenes are set in the day room of a 1960s psychiatric hospital, where Nurse Ratched holds group therapy sessions with a circle of patients.

“It's a really good character study,” Harry said. “There are a lot of very, very unique characters in this play and that's the biggest draw.”

There is the very fragile boy with a stutter and bandage-wrapped wrists, Billy Bibbit, who has tried to kill himself several times and is in the hospital voluntarily. There is Dale Harding, a sophisticated and well-read man who is also voluntarily seeking help for shame he feels as a married homosexual.

A gigantic but docile half-Native American, “Chief” Bromden, is believed to be mute and deaf. A small Italian man, Martini, thinks people are after him. Scanlon is obsessed with destruction and explosives. George Sorenson is a germaphobe. And Charles Cheswick is a loud-mouthed patient who demands change in the ward but meets his end at the bottom of a swimming pool.

As Nurse Ratched picks on each patient to discuss their issues, McMurphy finds out this isn't the place he thought it would be. He sees the cool and calming Ratched as a controlling, wicked woman.

While most of the patients believe Nurse Ratched to be helping them, McMurphy argues that she is trying to destroy them.

As he challenges the nurse's authority and convinces others to do the same, McMurphy becomes a threat to Nurse Ratched and her ward, where he risks forced lobotomy if he refuses to back down.

“It's about the state of mental institutions in the 1950s and '60s and how we treated the mentally ill,” said Zijdemans-Boudreau. Ratched “bought into a system that believed shock therapy and lobotomy was a way of curing mental illness.

"She helped to deliver those policies, but certainly did not create them. That's why I think the hostility is unfair. She's just doing her job. She's part of the machine."