Last fall, the Belmont Hill and Winsor Upper School actors took on one of the most difficult tragedies ever written: Macbeth. This year will be no different. Director Ms. Robison and fourteen actors and actresses are set to perform One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, one of the most intense and dramatic pieces from the Western canon.
Cuckoo’s Nest was originally a controversial novel, written by Ken Kesey just as the civil rights movement was taking shape in America. It rose to Hollywood fame a decade later when it was adapted into a critically acclaimed movie starring Jack Nicholson in 1975. Both the book and film are now considered to be American classics for their vibrant characters and powerful writing, which is why English teachers at Belmont Hill often assign the book for their classes.
Taking place in a psychiatric ward, the play revolves around a group of mentally ill patients at the mercy of an icy warden, Nurse Ratched, whose treatment methods resemble more psychological torture than therapeutics. But, after the arrival of R. P. McMurphy, a convicted felon who feigned insanity to escape jail, the patients begin to rebel against Nurse Ratched, starting a cold war over power in the ward which only one party can win.
Cuckoo’s Nest serves to show society’s mistreatment of those deemed “insane” in the 1960s. Though some characters are mentally ill, experience hallucinations, or want to bomb buildings, others on the ward have different psychological issues for which institutionalization is not warranted, such as homosexuality or neurosis. “Billy suffers from anxiety caused by his overprotective and controlling mother,” says Christian Dolan, who plays Billy Bibbitt, a stuttering patient. “It’s amazing to me that he’s placed in the same ward as much crazier characters, because he’s not insane; he’s just anxious.”
Perhaps the most memorable character from the show is R. P. McMurphy, the archetype of a Western hero and the catalyst for change on the ward. “It’s been really fun playing McMurphy because he’s so active on stage and so different from who I am in real life,” says William Galligan, who plays McMurphy. “He’s vulgar, he’s impulsive, he doesn’t have a filter, and that makes you want him to win.” (Because of the profane, yet necessary, language throughout the play, Dr. Melvoin has given the play a “PG-13” rating.)
Ms. Robison found Cuckoo’s Nest one of the toughest yet most rewarding pieces she has directed. “A great challenge has been guiding the actors who play psychiatric patients into the inner worlds of these lovable, unique, and emotionally damaged characters,” she says. “These actors must bring their issues to the surface so the audience can empathize and root for them to make it.”
Cuckoo’s Nest will be performed on November 20th and 21st at 7 PM. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.