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Northwood High School One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

By • Mar 22nd, 2013 • Category: Cappies, Virginia

After the Newtown shooting, the news media was flooded with discussions about mental illness and the treatment of those afflicted with it. Desperate cries for reform mingled with acerbic derogatory comments, disconsolate entreaties, and seemingly unanswerable questions. Northwood High School endeavored to address the gray area of mental healthcare and the ambiguous morals it sometimes perpetuates in its riveting production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a 1963 play by Dale Wasserman based on Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name. The original production ran for 82 performances on Broadway, and in 1975 the story was made into an Oscar-winning movie starring Jack Nicholson. Set in a psychiatric hospital, Cuckoo’s Nest chronicles the fast-talking, quick-tempered Randle P. McMurphy, who feigns mental illness to escape a prison work farm. At the hospital he meets a kaleidoscopic cast of characters, suffering from a unique amalgam of disorders, and simultaneously inserts chaos into their lives while inspiring them to self-actualization and unification. Examining the institutional system and the nature of the psychologically disturbed, Cuckoo’s Nest serves as both an acutely powerful statement about the treatment of the mentally ill and a moving exploration of the human consciousness.

At the helm of the show was Arthur Kraus as McMurphy. Kraus accurately embodied the loquacious, hotheaded disposition of his character, demonstrating McMurphy’s relative sanity while also letting the façade slip at points to reveal the slightly unhinged nature of his psyche. As the show progressed, Kraus’s physicality and vocal expression became increasingly erratic, paralleling McMurphy’s journey from a man playing the system to a man defeated by it. Providing a foil for Kraus’s fiery, rebellious persona was Hannah-Sophie Hirsch as the stringent Nurse Ratched, overseer of the mental ward. Hirsch exuded a chilling austerity, flipping between condescendingly manipulative and maniacally power-hungry with frightening exactitude.

The two leads were complemented by an immensely entertaining and engaging group of supporting characters. As the sweet, innocent Billy Bibbit, Billy Yendell was entirely endearing, and displayed the wretchedness of pervasive guilt and self-doubt while flawlessly maintaining a stutter. Also notable was Jamie Holmes, who portrayed the mostly mute Chief Bromden. Holmes effortlessly exhibited his character’s frequent shifts between melancholy soliloquies and wide-eyed, zombie-like trances.

Though they rarely spoke, the more background members of the cast, including the “chronics” and inmate Ruckley (Brianna Lattanzio, Sam Gracia, and Emily Tartaglia), heavily contributed to the show’s eerie ambiance. Their characterization was remarkable, each actor retaining small, distinctive tics and personalized mannerisms.

The production’s technical elements also supplemented the play’s haunting feel. The set appeared simple, but upon closer inspection it contained a great amount of meticulous detail. The lighting and costumes were appropriate and unobtrusive, and the sound was extremely creative, employing alarms, bird calls, and an unnerving rendition of the rhyme from which the show draws its title.

Cuckoo’s Nest is a chiefly dramatic play that includes comedic elements, and the Northwood cast balanced both aspects admirably. Comic moments were featured, but did not overshadow the more sobering ones, including the heart-wrenching final minutes. As the show drew to a close, the audience was left with the same questions that we have been asking ourselves as a nation: “What does it mean to be mentally ill?” “How do we go about helping those we decide fall into that category?” Northwood’s production of Cuckoo’s Nest may not have wholly answered these questions, but, with skillful acting and intensive characterization, it brought them to light and underscored their gravity.

by Jordan Goodson of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Photo Gallery

Arthur Kraus, Hannah Sophie Hirsch Arthur Kraus, Sam Gracia
Arthur Kraus, Hannah Sophie Hirsch
Arthur Kraus, Sam Gracia
Billy Yendall, Sam Gracia, Victoria Sullivan
Billy Yendall, Sam Gracia, Victoria Sullivan

Photos by Dahlia Ehrenberg

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