Cast of 18 Brings “Cuckoo’s Nest” To Life
By Vanessa Wolf
Written by Dale Wasserman and based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the play will be performed on Monday, Aug. 12 in a staged reading format as part of Maui OnStage’s ONO! series.
Director Michael Pulliam explained, “I’ve wanted to do this show for a very long time after being involved at Steppenwolf when Gary Sinise did it. I think it is an under-produced drama the equal of ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘Death of a Salesman.’ Kesey was a little bit wacky, but this story is dead-on in the ill treatment of mental patients, which still exists today.”
Set in Oregon in 1963, Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy is an anti-authoritarian criminal who was serving a short sentence on a prison farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year old girl.
Although he does not show any signs of mental illness, McMurphy gets himself transferred to a mental institution for evaluation hoping to avoid the hard labor of the farm and serve the rest of his sentence in what he anticipates will be a relaxed and leisurely hospital environment.
The mental ward he is sent to is run by the steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched.
In order to suppress her charges, she employs subtle humiliation, mandatory mind-numbing daily routines, and unpleasant medical treatments. McMurphy soon discovers that his fellow patients are more fearful of Ratched than they are focused on becoming functional in the outside world.
As a result, he immediately establishes himself as the leader over his fellow patients including Billy Bibbit, a nervous, stuttering young man; Dale Harding, a high-strung, well-educated paranoid; Max Taber, who is belligerent and profane; and “Chief” Bromden, a silent Native American believed to be deaf and mute.
McMurphy’s and Ratched’s battle of wills escalates rapidly, culminating in his plan to escape the hospital with some of his fellow patients in tow.
Pulliam commented, “McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are such classic stage opponents. The battle is hypnotic and timeless. Anyone can see themselves, at any job; two philosophies at odds.”
Although written over 50 years ago, the story covers themes that are still relevant today, and in particular explores the pervasive use of electroshock therapy in the 1960s.
Nuances of that plot element hit home with Pulliam. “I had a great uncle that had shock treatment in the ’50s. He lived in a basement for the rest of his life, rarely ever speaking. Back then families accepted that treatment because doctors and nurses said it was the right thing to do.”
Although still used – often with great success – for severe depression, many patients suffered needlessly and were even damaged by the extensive use of the procedure in earlier times. The McMurphy character is one such example.
Whether you’ve read the book, seen the film starring Jack Nicholson or are new to it altogether, you can experience the entire story live and in person on the 12th.
The large cast includes Brian Connely as McMurphy, Andrea Giamattei as Nurse Ratched and Francis Tau’a as Chief Bromden.
The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free to the public.
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