Feb 032010
Authors: Anna Baldwin

The set of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Monday started to finally resemble a 1960s mental ward.
Gray columns stood erected near the front of the stage and industrial-style doorways and a nurse’s station at the rear.

Backstage of the University Theatre the sound of drills could be heard between the loud pounds of heavy objects meeting solid floor.

On the whole, the University Center for the Arts theatre looked like a sort of organized chaos, closely resembling the play itself.

The finished product will be revealed tonight as the production, by Dale Wasserman and adapted from the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, opens as the semester’s first play by the Theatre Department.

A motley crew and cast of characters

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” takes place in Nurse Ratched’s ward at the Oregon State Hospital and narrated by presumably deaf and dumb patient Chief Bromden, played by senior social work major Lewis Headrick.

Set in the 1960s, the play is an allegory about people that were sucked into the asylum system, people that needed be “fixed,” like epileptics and autistic people, said director and associate professor of theatre Laura Jones.

These inmates are kept tranquilized and locked away from the outside world in an environment comparable to prison, she said.

“Fifty years ago this is what was happening. It was seriously not that long ago,” Jones said. “Society just didn’t know a different way. This play is an interesting combo of realism and surrealism.”

Theatre and creative writing major Megan Guidarelli, who plays Nurse Ratched, described her character as the ultimate predator –– a spider. She is intelligent and passive aggressive, and she’s doing everything to ensure nothing changes for her inmates in her regimented domain, Guidarelli said.

Her plan works flawlessly until an outsider joins the ranks of the institutionalized: the rebel Randle Patrick McMurphy, played by theatre major Luke Peckinpaugh.

Peckinpaugh described his character as one who does not play by the rules and is the polar opposite of Ratched. Before McMurphy, every day was the same.

Tension builds with McMurphy’s challenging of authority. Guidarelli said she compares this to two negative ends of a magnet that are forcibly resisting the other for a long period of time.

“When two egocentric characters are on stage, tension builds and builds. There’s not enough room in the environment,” Guidarelli said. “It’s a living, breathing animal. It’s emotionally draining and full throttle the whole time.”

Junior performing arts major Ben Wasser, who plays the stuttering Billy Bibbit, said the building atmosphere is like a “dormant volcano.”

McMurphy, Bibbit and Ratched are just three of a larger cast of 24 characters, all of which theatre major Luke Karn said work together and play off each other.

“Each character is different, and this is what makes them all work well together,” Karn said. “It seems like everything is covered. The characters seem to have or substitute something in themselves that seems to be lacking in another.”

Two-a-day rehearsals

Cast and crew began preparing for the production almost a year ago. And much like a football team, the actors returned 10 days early to rehearse, often twice a day.

“I think they bonded as a cast; they have great camaraderie,” Jones said. “Sometimes I feel like a football coach during intermission, and we’re winning, but it’s only been the first half.”

To help the actors prepare for roles and to understand this time in history, dramaturge and communication studies major Hannah Mackay assisted with thorough research. A dramaturge like a literary manager for a production, almost like an assistant to a director.

“Most the actors are 18 to 22 (years old) and are doing stuff that happened before they were born,” Jones said. “We needed to dispel anything preconceived coming in, any stereotypes.”

Research on lobotomies and electroshock therapy, as well as actual footage from such experiences helped get the actors understand and to get in the mindset, Jones said. The actors even played a ‘60s board game in character to prepare for the roles.

A professional fight choreographer was used to help the cast make the physical interaction seem convincing.
The play’s set aids the audience in getting in the mindset of this time period, when our society first dabbled with understanding mental illnesses.

Strategically planned lighting and clicking noises and shadows cast from some of the architectural hanging props help set the scene.

“Each night we are transformed into burdens of the state,” Karn said. “The set invites the audience into this world. They are flies on the wall.”

“The audience is in the asylum,” Jones said.

Performances will be held Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Also, the production runs from Feb. 10-13.
Tickets are $18 for the public, $9 for CSU students and are available from the University Center for the Arts Ticket Office or online at http://csutix.universitytickets.com.

Staff writer Anna Baldwin can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

  • What: CSU production “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
  • When: Starts today at 8 p.m.
  • Where: The University Theatre at the University Center for the Arts.
  • Tickets: $18 for the public and $9 for CSU students.
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