NOTUrse Ratched, Chief Bromden and McMurphy return to the high school scene at Waverly, but with a decidedly contemporary twist.
W-SR’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s “Flight Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” with performances scheduled for April 20-21, is “almost entirely gender-reversed”, according to John Atkinson, professor of English W-SR and production manager. For example, Nurse Ratched is played by a male student and McMurphy and Chief are played by female students.
The school presented the show 16 years ago and has since presented it in a largely traditional fashion, with a few additional female patients to help balance the male-dominated roles.
But this adaptation, Atkinson said, addresses “how different the landscape of the genre we find ourselves in today is.”
“Some of these lines play very differently than they did ten years ago,” he said, referring to the original script. “There’s this gender fluidity issue that we’re still dealing with.”
Adjusting the game “was a bit difficult,” he said.
“It created some interesting conversations about language that I hadn’t anticipated,” he said. “We’re keeping a lot of the language, but we’ve said in part, ‘No, that doesn’t work anymore. “”
Most viewers familiar with “Flight Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are familiar with the Oscar-winning film version, starring Jack Nicholson as Randall McMurphy, a new patient in a mental institution, who defies tyrannical head nurse Ratched, with tragic consequences.
Atkinson noted that the play is more like the original novel than the film. The film was dominated by the character of Jack Nicholson, while the play focuses on the character of Chief, who appears to be deaf and mute but ultimately reveals he is neither.
The play has mature content and is not suitable for all audiences due to “mature language and difficult themes”, Atkinson warned. He likened it to a PG-13 movie rating, in terms of relevance to audiences.
He reported that “Cuckoo’s Nest” was a real challenge for the students, and not just because of the adjustments made to the script. As he noted, only two of the current cast members were present for the last full play performed by W-SR, during their freshman year.
The 2020 play was canceled close to its performance date when the school closed due to the pandemic, and the spring 2021 play consisted of three one-act plays, in an attempt to separate the actors into due to COVID precautions.
“The line load has been much heavier for some students,” Atkinson said. “Also, I felt the need to go back to something challenging and meaningful, even if it was a more mature theme and language.”
Atkinson is pleased that the group designed and built for the play, depicting the common room of a mental asylum, where nearly all of the scenes take place.
“I was really, really happy with it overall,” he said.
This is the last year that Doug Nichols, a retired W-SR English teacher, will be involved in the design and construction of the sets.
“He’s been on the set for 20, 21 years,” Atkinson observed. But Nichols, who retired in May 2020, will be moving to Wisconsin with his wife, so this is his last hurray with the W-SR Theater.
“We’re excited that this year we can get back to a game that has a full set,” Atkinson said.
The cast of “Cuckoo’s Nest” includes Sofia Frenna (Chief Bromden), Lucas Hart (Nurse Ratched), Paulina Robles (Nurse Flinn), Leo Nosbisch (Dale Harding), Xavier Boeding (Billy Bibbit), Anya Drenkow (Scalon), Rebecca Zheng (Cheswick), Luke McMillin (Martini), Elyse Storlie (McMurphy), Emily Claire Lorenzen (Dr Spivey), Nevaeh Bouska (Aide Warren), Ari Ellerbroek (Aide Williams), GracieMae Miller (Aide Turkle), Cora Ellingworth (Candy Starr), Kaitlyn Myrmo (Sandra), Rain Hein (Ruckly), Kat Birgen (Invalide) and Maya Rutledge (Invalide).
Junior Allison Arjes, who was the stage manager for the musical “Annie” last fall, is this time the student assistant director.
“She was very helpful in the preparation and the staging,” Atkinson said.
The lighting is a collaboration between Atkinson and Nathan Litterer senior. “Nathan has worked on lights for nearly every musical and stage play for the past four years,” Atkinson said, “and plans to continue doing technical theater work in college next year.”
Performances of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” will take place next Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm General admission tickets will be available at the door for $5.