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In Raleigh Little Theatre's boisterous R-rated production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, directed by the husband-and-wife team of Linda O'Day Young and Rick Young, charismatic conman and irrepressible free spirit Randle Patrick McMurphy (Seth Blum) escapes arduous backbreaking manual labor on a prison work farm by entering a mental hospital, where he runs head on into Nurse Ratched (Maggie Rasnick), a veritable Queen Bitch and the bête noire of the ward's residents. The consequences, for McMurphy, are an epic and often hilarious battle with authority, followed by an unexpected — and tragic — comeuppance.
In addition to the Youngs, the RLT production team for this show includes lighting designer Michael T. May; costume designer Lydia Wagner; sound designer Elisheba Ittoop; fight choreographer Carmen-maria Mandley; and projections designer Larry Evans. Rick Young doubles as the show's set designer.
The RLT cast also includes Mark Aman, Jeff Buckner, Tim Cherry, David Coulter, Carroll Credle, Scott Enroughty, Larry Evans, Justin Farr, Del Flack, Phil Lewis, Al Marsiglia, Dawn Nuzzi, Thomas Porter, Staci Sabarsky, Matt Schedler, Derek Taylor, and Claire Wagner.
Award-winning dramatist Dale Wasserman's provocative 1963 script for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, based on an eye-opening 1962 novel by Ken Kesey (1935-2001), made its Broadway debut on Nov. 13, 1963 at the Cort Theatre. (Wasserman later scripted Man of La Mancha, which won the 1966 Tony Award® for Best Musical.) Alex Segal directed the original production of Cuckoo's Nest, which starred Kirk Douglas as McMurphy and Joan Tetzel as Ratched. The show only ran for 82 performances.
The 1975 motion-picture version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, directed by Milos Forman and scripted by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, was much more successful. It became the first movie in 41 years to sweep all the major Academy Awards®: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Nicholson as McMurphy), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Louise Fletcher as Ratched), Best Director (Forman), Best Picture (Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas, producers), and Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material (Hauben and Goldman).
"Rick and I both read the novel by Ken Kesey when we were in college in the late l960s," recalls Linda Young. "Later — in 1993, I think; it was when Rick was the charge artist at the Alley Theatre in Houston — Greg Boyd asked him to design the set for the Dale Wasserman stage adaptation of the novel. Later, when Rick was the scenic designer at The Smokebrush Theatre in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he again designed the set for their 1996 production of Cuckoo's Nest."
What made the Youngs want to direct and design Cuckoo's Nest? "As far as designing," Linda Young says, "Rick has always wanted to go all the way with his vision. Both Alley and Smokebrush agreed to a point, but Rick wanted to see his vision fully realized. His design is the hospital as seen through the eyes of the Chief Bromden (Kurt Benrud) — the eyes of a paranoid schizophrenic. The hospital is the 'Black Machine,' which turns people into robots and makes them all the same."
She adds, "The hospital here is not a safe place, but a dangerous one. It looks more like a factory than a place of healing. There is fog, and sounds of machines fill the air. As for me, in addition to just loving the play, here was a chance to do what I do best, coach actors in the development of rich and honest characters.
"Every actor in this play gives a stellar performance that is riveting and most importantly honest," claims Linda Young. "They have made an intense and honest journey together in the development of their characters. We have used animal and object imagery, as well as improv, to create characters who at any moment could become the protagonist of his or her own story. I am proud of that."
She explains, "The play takes place in a ward of a mental hospital just outside of Portland, Oregon. The year is 1963. The ward is ruled by Nurse Ratched, whose lips and fingernails are the color of the tip of a soldering iron. She rules with an iron fist. Enter Randle Patrick McMurphy, a wild Irish conman on release from a prison work farm. He's conned his way off of the work gang and into what he feels will be a brief and relaxing stay at a mental hospital. He's been labeled a psychopath by the prison doctors. What he doesn't realize is that the individual McMurphy is about to go to war with the system in the guise of Nurse Ratched.
"It would not do justice to the play to reveal the entire story," says Linda Young. "It simply must be experienced. There is violence and strong language, so it is not for the faint of heart but there is also good humor, sadness, happiness, hope, and truth."
She adds, "Both Rick and I are Baby Boomers. We came of age during the turbulent 1960s. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest definitely struck a positive chord with the subculture that was questioning the structure of a society that favored the big industrial machine over the individual. What appeals to both Rick and me personally is summed up by McMurphy's cry after he fails to lift the 500-lb. electrical box, 'I tried. Goddammit, I tried!' The true measure of a person is not in what he or she accomplished in life but rather in what he or she attempted. The joy and majesty of life is in the trying."
Note: This weekend's performances are SOLD OUT.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Friday-Saturday, Sept. 17-18, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 19, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, Sept. 22-25, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 26, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 2, at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 3, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatres). $15 ($12 students and senior Sunday matinees). 919/821-3111 or http://www1.etix.com/ticket/servlet/onlineSearch?action=venueSearch&venue_id=279&cobrand=RLT. Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and there will be assistive listening devices for the hard of hearing at all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/cuckoo.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=6772. Internet Movie Database (1975 Film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073486/.