‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ message endures

  • Mike Murray<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 10:06am

She’s No. 5 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 50 all-time greatest movie villains, right behind such luminaries as Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates.

Nurse Ratched is the by-the-book bully who makes life a living hell for the wretched mental ward inmates in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” especially the free-spirited prankster Randle Patrick McMurphy, who checks into the mental institution to beat jail time but hits a wall named Ratched.

But the woman who plays Nurse Ratched in the Everett Theatre Society production says she isn’t pure evil. Tough yes, but that’s the way people did things back in the by-the-book ’60s, says Alexandra Carlyle.

“Everything she is doing she feels is helping. She is not trying to be evil or vengeful. She really believes she is helping.”

Real times have changed — frontal lobotomies, for example, are a definite no-no – but Ken Kesey’s “Cuckoo’s Nest” remains a potent anti-establishment statement about individuality and rebellion in the face of fear and a repressive, conformist system.

Kesey’s 1962 novel, based on his own experience working in a veteran’s hospital, was adapted in 1974 by Dale Wasserman into a stage play; a year later it became one of the biggest movies of all time.

Now “Cuckoo” is set to fly again as a co-production of the Everett Theatre Society and Take A Bough Production of Monroe. “Cuckoo” will play three weekends in Everett before moving to the Frank Wagner Auditorium in Monroe for a final weekend.

Eric Lewis directs this big-cast production, and preparations have included a talk with one of the original cast members from the movie: Dr. Dean Brooks, a retired psychiatrist who played Dr. Spivey in the film.

The part of Nurse Ratched is a significant departure for Carlyle, whose stage roles are likely to be along the lines of a goose with Last Leaf Productions, a Monroe-based theater company that presents touring shows for schools and Shakespeare in the park productions.

The stage version of “Cuckoo,” which differs from the movie in several ways, paints a less sadistic portrait of Nurse Ratched.

“She is depicted as evil, but there is really not an evil bone in her body,” Carlyle said.

What she is about is maintaining control, and when McMurphy challenges her, an epic battle of wills ensues.

It’s a great part and Carlyle enjoys playing it to the hilt.

“It’s very cathartic and comes with a huge climax,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have a role where you don’t have to hold back. By the end of the show I am worn out.”

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