Tuesday, April 7, 2009

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Just got through reading Art Taylor's post on his blog, Art & Literature, about Round House Theatre's production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Since he noted that I would be posting something, I now have no choice but to put something down. Read his post when you're done here. Let me start by saying to anyone who has not attended a performance of any kind at Round House: You should. The "mission" of Round House is "Great Books. Unbound." For readers of our blogs, literary types, it's a great way to see the books you know and love.

What struck me about the play was the comedy in it, and it reminded me of the stark difference between watching a film, where through editing miracles can happen (writers should read Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday's terrific piece from this past Sunday about film editing), and a live performance of a play. In a film, of course, you can cut and recut scenes again and again, slice, dice, mangle, and put it together again (in a way not too dissimilar from writing a novel). But in a play, obviously, you don't have that luxury. You have to get it right the first time, and since it's a live performance, you also have to entertain.

Which is why I think there was more comedy in the performance. Unfortunately, I don't have my program, so I cannot put names to the characters. It was one character in particular, Martini, who struck me as a comic foil designed to make the audience laugh. He would run on stage stiffly, crazily, leap over chairs, run through doors and back again. Naturally, the audience laughed (it was funny).

But you don't see this in the film. You can't. It's a different medium with different needs. But one thing the performance did really well--and here, though I recognize Art's point about simplification--I'd like to say that the Jerry Whiddon directed play DID capture the spirit of the film. Yes, it has everything to do with the time period in which Kesey wrote his novel, as Art pointed out. But as a theatre-goer I have zero problem with that. Take a look at The Crucible or Long Day's Journey Into Night or even, I think, Krapp's Last Tape. It's been a while since I've seen those plays, but I remember them precisely because they condensed their "messages" into the compacted format of the theatre.

That's not to say I favor simplicity. At the core of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is a simplified message. But say what you will about Steinbeck--and he seems to be taking a beating of late--it's still a powerful novel.

And Cuckoo's message is very powerful, and in fact it's still true to this day. Mostly. There's a little too much blame being leveled on the women in the play-- the mothers, the wives, Nurse Ratched--for me to really accept it. That seems totally dated now, and for good reason. That kind of simplification is different than, say, a governmental force imposing its blunt and brutal will on an entire people (as represented by the big Indian Bromley). Haven't we seen this fairly recently on the real world stage?

All in all, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was a nicely-directed, wonderfully acted (and cast) play. You may recognize the book, you may recognize the movie, but you will not leave the theatre without being moved. I promise you that.

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