Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 3:45 pm | Fair 85º

 
 
 
 

Gerald Carpenter: ‘Cuckoo’ Flies Again at Camarillo Community Theatre

Ken Kesey's renowned novel, play and movie gets a fresh performance on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 25

The Camarillo Community Theatre is presenting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest through Sept. 25.

Ken Kesey wrote 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest' after working in a Menlo Park mental hospital.
Ken Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest after working in a Menlo Park mental hospital.

The performance is directed by Brian Robert Harris and produced by Dean Johnson, and stars Dan Saad in the role of Randle P. McMurphy, Jessica Verdi as Nurse Ratched, Chris Alton as Chief Bromden, Jim Seerden as Dale Harding and Patrick Beckstead as Billy Bibbitt, with Martin Lawrence Scott, Jeffrey Long, Cory Wysznsky, Drew Davenport, Azia Crescenzo, Amanda Elliott, Phil Levere, Olivia Heulitt and Matt Bergstrom.

Ken Kesey finished his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in 1959, and it was published in 1962. It sold well, especially the paperback edition, but in cloth it never reached the top 10 fictional best-sellers for its year (nor, for that matter, did Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, now celebrating its 50th anniversary). The following year, Tony-winner Dale Wasserman adapted Cuckoo’s Nest for the stage. Starring Kirk Douglas as McMurphy, Gene Wilder as Billy Bibbit and Ed Ames as Chief Bromden, the play opened on Broadway in November 1963 and ran for 82 performances. The show was revived off-Broadway in 1971, and again on Broadway in 2001, with Gary Sinise as McMurphy.

Douglas liked the part so much he bought the film rights to the novel, but by the time a film of Cuckoo’s Nest became feasible, Douglas was too old to play McMurphy. Eventually, he passed the rights on to his son, Michael, and the film was made in 1975, directed by Miloš Forman, with a screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. The movie went on to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Director and Best Screenplay — the first to make this sweep since It Happened One Night in 1934.

So successful was the movie that it eclipsed both the play and the novel itself, inflating the story from an important event in the worlds of literature and theater, respectively, to a huge pop culture phenomenon. It also marked the completion of Nicholson’s rise to permanent, indelible stardom (although he had already given better, more interesting performances in Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge, The Passenger and Chinatown). It is not a coincidence that, for the next quarter-century, no further revivals of the play took place in this country. Who wants to be compared to a living legend?

Kesey was a founding father of the 1960s zeitgeist, and Cuckoo’s Nest is by far his most important book. The novel enshrines two major elements of what, for the purposes of simplification, I will call the “counter-culture” of that still-controversial decade: 1) the charismatic anti-social thug, and 2) the sentimental reverence for mental illness. The protagonist, Randle McMurphy, has been convicted of battery and gambling — and charged, although not convicted, of statutory rape. To get out of serving out his time doing hard labor on a prison farm, he has feigned insanity convincingly enough to get himself transferred to a state asylum for the insane. With his congenital hostility to all authority. McMurphy immediately falls afoul of the domineering ward nurse, Miss Ratched, and the story of the novel (play, movie) becomes that of a contest of wills between the two. McMurphy sees himself as a free spirit and liberator; Miss Ratched sees him as a problem and a threat to her wing of the social order, of which she considers herself the honorable defender.

I have not seen the play, but the novel seems to me to lend itself better to dramatization than to filming. It will be a relief to consider the issues raised in the story in the context of a human-scaled production, without having to correct for our inevitable bias in favor of Nicholson (and my own bias against Forman). This should be a memorable theatrical evening.

Performances of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 25. The Camarillo Community Theatre is located at 330 Skyway Drive in Camarillo. Ticket prices are $18 (adults), $13 (seniors, students and military) and $10 (children 12 and under). Call 805.388.5716.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >