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Fauquier Community Theatre presents: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Thursday, Jan. 30 | By Constance Lyons
FauquierTimes Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Ken Kesey’s counter-culture novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” appeared in the early 1960’s, in the midst of the Vietnam war protests, the civil rights movement, and the first stirrings of women's’ liberation. The book touched a nerve. It was an instant best seller and was made first into a play and then into a multiple Oscar winning movie.

Randle McMurphy, a sometime convict currently serving time at a work farm, manages to get himself committed to a mental institution because he thinks it will be easier.

McMurphy is loud, coarse, dirty, oversexed and manipulative. A compulsive gambler, he works at conning the other inmates out of their few possessions. But he is also fundamentally decent; he is outraged at the suppression and exploitation of the inmates by the authorities, and the conflict eventually results in his ruin and his salvation.

His nemesis is Nurse Ratched, who embodies the oppressive, hated establishment and asserts her authoritarian control of her patients by emasculating them. During the group therapy sessions, she “pecks the first peck,” or points out the first weakness, and then sits back and watches as the patients start to attack each other. She goads the other patients on. McMurphy, infuriated, exclaims, “The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it—with chickens — is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see.”

He is the irresistible force to Ratched’s immovable object; in one evocative and symbolic scene, McMurphy tries, and fails, to shift a monumental piece of medical equipment.
The play’s narrator, Chief Bromden, an enormous half-Native American, serves at first as a silent observer. But McMurphy’s energy and courage crack his carapace and eventually he emerges and escapes from his long, stuporous drug-induced incarceration.

“I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.

Timothy Bamabara, theater arts teacher at Liberty High School, plays McMurphy with a fierce, bawdy intensity filled at once with duplicity and integrity. He fills up the confined space, swaggering, bantering, provoking everyone.

“Basically, McMurphy is feigning psychosis,” he said. “He overdoes everything: he’s promiscuous; he fights, drinks, gambles, all too much. It’s noteworthy that all the patients are male, and all the ‘caretakers’ female. This is a play about emasculation.”

“She must have had a rough childhood,” said Holly Czuchna, who plays Nurse Ratched. “She’s taking out her anger. Prim, proper, very stern and strict, never married. She’s just fine until she runs into McMurphy, and then she starts to crack up.”

Czuchna manages to convey both the character’s implacable stony emasculating nature and her hidden vulnerability.

Ken Wayne, a drama teacher at Culpeper Middle School who plays Chief Bromden, gives a powerful, sensitive performance as his character emerges from the shadows of psychosis and begins to heal.
“I love this play,” he said. “There are so many layers to it, and especially to my character, whose soliloquies are full of a nightmarish poetry. This is a defeated man who tried to stand against the machine: the government, the hospital. When McMurphy appears, he gets a little hope. He latches on to him and claws his way back to reality.”

Leland Shook, who directs, has an affinity for what he calls “deep, dark, dramas.”

“I’ve done “Dracula,” “Night Must Fall,” “And Then There Were None.” In April I’m directing Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee” for FCT.” Ironically, Shook made his stage debt in a seventh grade production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

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