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Checkmate?

Evil rarely knows it's evil. This is why the most iconic villains in history, literature, and even the present day are so chilling. They are motivated by a warped sense of purpose, of destiny, of doing...good. And so, when asked to don the uniform of one of the most hated villains in recent American lore, I knew my challenge—to find the humanity of Nurse Ratched.


Richard wrote previously about Cuckoo’s Nest themes of freedom. So, who encompasses the total opposite of freedom? Yep. There it is. The answer to Nurse Ratched is her desperate need to control.


Clues abound in the script. Ratched lives within the psychiatric compound. She’s worked as a psychiatric nurse for over twenty years. She’s never married, has no children, and has no life outside of her ward and her interaction with the patients and the staff. She works in the foreground of breakthrough mental health treatments—group therapy, electro-shock therapy, and lobotomy. She runs her ward efficiently and with great purpose. And, yet...


The patients never recover and leave the ward. Most of them are NOT committed. They can leave anytime they wish, but they choose to remain. They need Nurse Ratched and she needs them--a perfectly cultivated system of twisted interdependence. And, then...


Randle P. McMurphy arrives and the games begin. Richard, throughout rehearsals, referred to each moment between McMurphy and Ratched as chess moves. It’s slow and strategic and vicious. Mac’s fight for freedom and Ratched’s fury as she sees the well-oiled machinery of her ward crumble.


However, as Richard told me before rehearsals began, “Great. Now throw all of that away, come to rehearsals, be in the moment, and build her bit by bit.”


I think I did that. I (as Ratched) discipline, warn, teach, nurture, threaten, command, provoke, and finally annihilate.


The checkmate, however, isn’t clear. Some may view Ratched as the winner. But she’s not. In the final move, she wins the match, but she loses everything else.


On a personal note, it’s been exhilarating, intimidating, and an utmost honor to share the stage with this cast. Mark Brewer as Martini—his childlike joy and terror and need for Ratched’s approval, Derek Cook as Scanlon—his homemade bomb box that appeared at our second rehearsal and has served as a beloved mascot ever since, James Knapp as Billy Bibbit—I have to tuck Jennifer McHugh far away to prevent me from breaking character and wanting to hug and reassure him, Stephen Pickering as Cheswick—his little smile and fluttery eyes that beg Ratched not to look at him, Bill Chamberlain as Harding—his poise and operatic speaking voice, the shift in his gaze as his loyalty moves away from Ratched and toward McMurphy. Justin Schaller as Chief Bromden—his gentle presence and soulful brown eyes that quake with fear when Ratched approaches him, Chris Bibby, and Jarrett Passaglia—are the aides to Ratched as the eels are to Ursula (or the flying monkeys are to the Wicked Witch of the West), forever swirling and ready to do Ratched's every bidding. Erin Liston as Nurse Flinn—the essence of purity and sweetness, countering everything awful on the ward, Joe Bateman as Ruckly—his constant damaged bearing on stage a physical reminder of the evil behind Ratched’s sweet control, William Athow as Dr. Spivey—the first to fall under McMurphy’s charming spell, and the first to infuriate Ratched. Carly Mulert as Candy, Caitlin Robb as Sandy, and Dwight Brown as Aide Turkle—the glorious moments of levity you bring when Ratched leaves the stage. And, finally, Guy Sullivan as McMurphy. The intensity, energy, fearlessness, and yes, charm, in every second Guy graces the stage is what finally brings Ratched to life. It's a knockout, throw-down fight to the bitter end. Thank you to each and every one of you.


And, to Richard. Thank you for taking a chance with Rainbow Fish.


Jennifer McHugh plays Nurse Ratched
















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