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That's crazy: It's McMurphy versus Ratched in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' resonates with male community

By Katie Scarvey

Salisbury Post

Piedmont Players Theatre staff members have noticed an unusually high number of phone calls from men asking about PPT’s upcoming show, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Baby boomers, both male and female, are almost certain to have seen the movie of that name starring Jack Nicholson, which swept the Academy Awards for 1976, winning in all the major categories (picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay). The story, however, seems to resonate strongly with men.

Bob Paolino, who plays Randle McMurphy, agrees that this is a play that will appeal to men as well as women. McMurphy, he says, is “very macho in some ways.”

PPT director Reid Leonard says the movie version “was pretty much a vehicle for Jack Nicholson.” The original novel by Ken Kesey and the play by Dale Wasserman, however, are more focused on the character of the Chief than McMurphy.

The play has been produced on Broadway three times, most recently in 2001 with Gary Sinise as McMurphy.

The basic storyline of both the movie and the play is this: Con man Randle Patrick McMurphy — a petty criminal from way back — has been arrested. He decides that doing his time in a mental institution would be easier than the work farm.

McMurphy befriends the Chief (played by Big Joe McGee), an inmate who’s been there for years. He shakes up the inmates’ dull and repetitive lives and engages in an epic battle of wills with Nurse Ratched.

The story has worn well over the years, Leonard says. In the late 60s, the idea of the young anarchist going up against the authority figure wasn’t unusual. Now, however, we don’t see it as black and white.

If you put the story in a high school setting, Leonard says, McMurphy would be “the coolest guy in school,” but if you’re a teacher, “he’s your greatest nightmare.”

So the question is, Leonard says, whether McMurphy is the good guy or the bad guy. Paolino enjoys McMurphy’s complexity: “He’s the villain and the hero at one time,” he says.

Paolino wanted the role of McMurphy as soon as he heard PPT was doing the show. “It’s a challenging role,” he says. ” He’s on stage probably 90 percent of the time.”

The part, however, was written for someone 20 years younger than Paolino, who says he lost “quite a bit” of weight, partly to better play the role.

Paolino says he stayed away from watching the movie because he wanted to do his own interpretation of McMurphy. From what he remembers of Nicholson in the movie, he thinks he brings a similar childlike quality to the character. “But at the same time, I think I’m rougher, not quite as fun-loving,” he says.

Nurse Ratched (Sacha Roberts) is also a fascinating character, Leonard says.

During auditions for the role, Leonard says, it was fascinating to see the variety of takes on who Nurse Ratched is — whether she’s evil, having a bad day, or the embodiment of the ultimate authority figure.

“This character isn’t as simple as you might think,” Leonard says. “She’s not Darth Vader.”

Cast List:

Randle McMurphy: Bob Paolino

Nurse Ratched: Sacha Roberts

Chief Bromden: Joe McGee

Harding: Shawn Van Wallendael

Billy: Jamison Middlemiss

Scanlon: Paul Zahalsky

Cheswick: Rodney McAllister

Martini: Jim Esposito

Ruckley: Claude Burnham

Aide Warren: Jonathan Furr

Aide Williams: Travis Stewart

Dr.Spivey: Ken Osterhus

Nurse Flinn: Shakeisha Gray

Aide Turkle: David Crook

Candy Starr: Tammi Shumate

Sandra: Amie Daniels

Inmates: James Bigsby, David Graczyk, Jeff Miller, Todd Paris, John Sofley, Dustin Stewart

Nurses: Sarah Drinkard, Theresa Laib, Thomasina Paige

Performances for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are at 7:30 p.m. January 25 – 27, 31 and February 1 – 3. January 28, curtain is at 2:30 p.m. Performances are at the Meroney Theatre, 213 S. Main St. Salisbury.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors (over 62) and students (under 18). Tickets are $9 for everyone Wednesday Value Night. Tickets for groups of 20 or more are $11.

The box office opens to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, January 22 and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. all other weekdays during run of show. Call 704-633-5471 for ticket information.

Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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