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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Maria Smith | Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The St. Edward’s Hall Players shot high when they decided to take on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”Thanks to the hard work of one of the biggest casts and crews in St. Ed’s history, the play has turned into a big success. The St Edward’s Hall Players had always been one of the smaller acting groups on campus, but with a budget of $2300 and no faculty help, the group has managed to pull together a striking student-run full stage production.The play brings together some of the most experienced actors on campus, along with some new recruits, in one of the most popular stories in modern American literature. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a 60s novel in every sense of the word. Published in 1962, the novel depicts the heroic struggle of mental institution inmate Randle Patrick McMurphy against the oppressive Nurse Ratched, an authoritarian asylum worker with little regard for her patients. Anyone with an itch against authority can find the original “damn-the-man” hero in the courageously bawdy McMurphy.McMurphy first enters the asylum on dubious grounds. His file shows a long record of drunkenness, assault, disturbing the peace and rape – statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl who “said she was 18, and plenty o’ willin.'” McMurphy is saner than any patient, nurse or doctor in the ward, and only gets himself admitted to avoid the manual labor planned as punishment for his raucous good times.He is sane until he enters the treatment ward. Once inside, holding on to any form on sanity is a minute-by-minute struggle. McMurphy’s carefree rebelliousness is exactly the thing that could decimate Ratched’s tyranny. The ward quickly becomes a battlefield of wills as McMurphy seeks to free the patients from under Ratched’s well-manicured thumb.Ken Kesey’s novel was an immediate success after its publication. Kesey based his descriptions of the ward on his own experiences. Kesey worked in a mental institution during the late 1950s, where he talked to many of the patients and developed a strong dislike for the institutional system.”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” became even more famous with Milos Forman’s 1975 screen adaptation. The film was wildly popular, winning five academy awards. Despite the movie’s popularity and Jack Nicholson’s indelible association with the role of McMurphy, many Kesey fans have said the movie lost the most important aspects of the book. The stage adaptation by Dale Wasserman is said to retain much more of the genius of Kesey’s original work. Director Adel Hanash picked up the script on a whim after he heard in the winter of 2002 that he would be directing this year’s show. He had heard a lot about the play, and found all the praise to be true.”Before I started directing the show I read the play about 30 times,” Hanash said. “It has everything I was looking for. Now you see a lot of stylized scripts, but this play is straightforward, with stylistic points. It gave me room to play around.”Although the story is already famous, Hanash wanted to interpret the script his own way.”I’ll see the movie after the production, but I refused to see it before. I didn’t want it to affect how the show came out,” Hanash said.Hanash has played Othello, Tartuffe, Laertes and many other characters during his time on campus, but the play is his first swing at directing. Directing the large cast has proved to be particularly difficult. A cast of 15 or 20 actors can easily dwarf the Washington Hall stage. Making the action look natural required careful blocking.Hanash relied greatly on his experienced cast and crew to bring the show together.”Everyone put in so much,” Hanash said. “I called in every favor I had to get it done.””One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is an exciting play, but it is also dark and difficult to perform. The veteran actors playing the lead roles in the show worked hard to pull the story together.Seniors Tom Conner and Justin Williams have built up the chemistry needed to play McMurphy and narrator Chief Bromden through four years of acting together at Notre Dame. The two got their start together in “Love’s Fire” their freshman year, and have worked with each other in six plays.”The connection we’ve built makes the development and the ending that much more real to me,” said Williams.Senior Katy Kertez, a Film, Television and Theatre and English double major, has found her role as Nurse Ratched to be a new challenge compared to the other roles she has played.”Ratched is a tough nut to crack,” Kertez said. “It’s hard to find her humanity and still keep her to what the show needs, which is a villain.”As the group prepared for their rehearsal Monday night, lighting and set technicians were hard at work. The group moved into Washington Hall only a few days before opening night, and the crew continues to work hard to perfect sound and lighting affects.But when the show opens Wednesday night, it promises to be an exciting event for the St. Edward’s Hall Players and a triumphant debut for Hanash.”We have some big shoes to fill following the footsteps of such a famous movie,” Kertez said. “[Hanash] really went above and beyond.”