The Geneseo Community Players performed their adaptation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on Friday Feb. 5–Saturday Feb. 6 at York Central School’s Ivan F. Hilfiker Auditorium. This is far from the first time “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has been adapted. Ken Kesey published the original novel in 1962, the play was first performed in 1963 and Miloš Forman’s film starring Jack Nicholson came out in 1975. The GCP’s production, however, is unique.
“The version you’re seeing you’ll never see anywhere else ever again,” director Blaine VanRy said.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” tells the story of a ward for men in a mental hospital in the 1960s. Played by Chris Norton, newcomer Randle McMurphy arrives fresh from prison to serve the rest of his time at the psych ward. There, he meets a cast of interesting men.
Among the eccentric characters is Harding—portrayed by Mark Hopkins—who is the apparent homosexual leader of the ward. Cheswick—played by Gene Scherline—wears his pants as high as they can go, constantly shuffling around the ward. Sefelt—played by Taylor Yelencsics—and Fredrickson—played by Jamond Billyard—are usually laughing together at an inappropriate joke, while Billy—played by Jake Feltham—is a nervous young man who speaks with a stutter.
VanRy explained that the show follows McMurphy’s conflict with the cold, calculating Nurse Ratched—played by Ingrid Bergquist—who exerts her power over the men of the ward. This power dynamic is part of what drew him to the show.
“It’s just a story about power: the struggle between man and the institution,” VanRy said. “It doesn’t matter what time period it’s set in—it’s always going to be a theme that everybody fights against.”
Ratched uses her authority to pit the men against one another. During their group therapy sessions, she launches them into a “pecking party” where the men gang up on each other “like a bunch of hens.” To subvert this dynamic, McMurphy finds ways to challenge Ratched, from watching the World Series against her orders to throwing a party at the ward.
McMurphy eventually plans to escape the ward with Chief—played by Toby Drowne. Ratched reaches her breaking point with his insubordination and has him lobotomized. To put McMurphy out of his misery, Chief smothers him and then escapes the ward to flee to Canada as the two had planned.
Another exceptional aspect of GCP’s production is its cast, which VanRy described as “phenomenal.”
“It’s a really good mixture of old pros that have been doing this for 40 years and some newbies that have been in zero shows or two shows,” he said. “It’s a really diverse cast.”
Everyone on stage had charisma and chemistry with each other and they brought the characters to life with ease.
Bringing a renowned classic like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to the stage is no easy task, but VanRy and the GCP did it expertly. From the set design to the lighting to the cast, the show was a beautiful ode to Kesey’s characters.
Although VanRy noted that it isn’t “a happy story with jazz hands,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a timeless tale about the power struggle between individuals and institutions—a tale that the GCP masterfully showcased.