“Cuckoo’s Nest” depicts mental illness with realism, intensity

When Randle P. McMurphy first arrives at the mental institution that he has been sentenced to live in, he can’t help but shriek with laughter at everything he sees. His cackles are infused with an apparent sense of superiority. He thinks living among the “crazies” will be a joke and an easy way to make money.

By the time the last spotlight fades to darkness, McMurphy, who finally succumbs to the abuse and trauma of the institution, is completely devoid of laughter.

Director junior Kimberly Olsen brings McMurphy and the rest of the inmates, workers and visitors of the institution to life by infusing propulsive energy and realism in the Veg S.O.U.P. and Cothurnus production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” For her interpretation of the play, Olsen said it was of the upmost importance to portray mental illness with complete sincerity.

“Mental illness is not so much about the disease itself,” Olsen said. “All the men [in the institution] are just the same as you and me, they all think and have feelings, however it is how they react to their certain situations that make them different, per se.”

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is one of the most ubiquitous titles in American literature. It started as a novel written by Ken Kesey, and was eventually turned into one of the most celebrated films in American cinema.

“It’s so iconic,” said senior Sam White, who stars as McMurphy.

Despite this, White said that this production is distinctive and original.

“We’re not out to remake the movie on stage, we’re out to give our own takes on a story about mental illness, about society, about nonconformity,” he said.

The play follows McMurphy as he acclimates to the psychiatric hospital, becomes chummy with the inmates and clashes with the head nurse, Nurse Ratched.

Much of the power of the play comes from the struggle between McMurphy and Ratched. McMurphy is a boisterous personality who enjoys creating chaos, while Ratched uses her quiet, determined demeanor to make everyone fall in line.

Junior Alicia Frame, who plays Ratched, and White match each other with intensity in every scene they perform. White was able to bring the booming and zealous energy required for McMurphy while Frame bounced off him perfectly with a tempered but almost uncomfortable quietness.

“She’s a bitch,” said Frame. “Flat out, verbatim, that’s what she is. She is a controlling, manipulative, conniving bitch; [however], you can’t discredit her for intelligence. She is an extremely smart and determined woman.”

Frame said that playing Ratched was a challenge because she is such a powerful, intense character.

“The basic thing that Nurse Rached thrives on is power,” said Frame. “She’s an entity of power and that’s something that I really tried to bring out in my physicality on stage and also vocally.”

During set changes, rather than simply fading to darkness and having crewmembers adjust props, Chief Bromden, played by senior Asav Vora, performs soliloquies to his “papa” under a spotlight of varying hues while the rest of the onstage cast changes the set.

The set is far from elaborate, but it is effective in its immersive qualities. White and grey tiles span the floor of the theater, which parallel the innate sterility and emptiness of the institution.

The pale blue scrubs of the inmates contrast with the exceedingly clean and white costumes of the nurses, the orderlies and the sole doctor of the hospital. The expert production lighting further enhances the use of color in the costumes.

“This is an ensemble piece,” said Olsen. “From the blocking of it to the set creation, all these different elements I could not have done without every single person pitching in their effort and time.”

Olsen said she is pleased with the cast and the final product.