Pretending Aide Williams
At the non-audition audition for Cuckoo’s Nest, I spent all of five minutes with our director, Richard Dominick.
“Okay, tell me about yourself,” he asked.
I talked about a few things important to me.
“What do you think about the character you’re auditioning for?”
Well, R.P. McMurphy has been a rebel hero of mine since my 20’s. Man, that guy wasn’t afraid of anyone. Back then, I was hard pressed to find someone who didn’t scare me. Less so today, so it’d be exciting to unleash my inner Id–
“Thank you, you may go,” he said.
I left feeling like I’d crushed it. So impressive was I, Richard didn’t even need me at callbacks!
Two days later, he cast me as a power-hungry badger.
Not what I’d hoped.
But I’d been impressed with Parker Players’ previous productions, both the quality of the casts and their creative flexing within the constraints of theatre. They weren’t afraid to try things. And historically, every time I gave up control of The Way Things Outta Be!, I learned something.
Cuckoo’s Nest takes place on a locked psychiatric ward, the patients severely crippled by forces from the outside world and inside by those entrusted with their care.
The badger in question, AideWilliams, serves as a bouncer on the floor, merely keeping things moving and ensuring the wishes of Nurse Ratched are carried out to the letter. He values rules over relationships. He’s a vicious man and too stupid to realize that that’s usually not helpful.
I’ve actually held Aide Williams’ job, in another life, though by the 90’s, they’d spruced the title up from Aide to Behavioral Health Technician. Bouncer.
Viciousness was never my jam but to be honest, the job was merely a stepping stone to get someplace else. And because of that, the year was a slog and it was fairly unfulfilling.
Mr. Williams doesn’t seem fulfilled either. He watches the clock constantly. He can pretend to be present as he counts the minutes until he can return to his small life. He won’t be burdened by moments of connection or self-reflection. Worse of all, he acts out his cowardly inferiority on human beings unwilling or able to strike back.
Why does Aide Williams behave this way?
Perhaps the result of unaddressed libidinal conflicts. Maybe an unconscious wish to please his mother in the form of Nurse Ratched. Or he could just be an asshole.
And really, who can blame him? Who of us hasn’t been battered and bruised by life? Who hasn’t wanted to just punch back? To pass on our misfortunes? To parrot one of the patient’s mantras: ‘Fuck ‘em all!’?
Of course, Aide Williams doesn’t have to be only a bouncer. He could enforce limits in a thoughtful way, adjusting interventions to build confidence and self-reliance in those he serves. But those aren’t the choices of someone who doesn’t show up.
Yes, much easier to be difficult than the available alternatives: empathetic, understanding, kind.
That’s one of the gifts of theatre. It can sympathize with our experience while challenging us to approach it at new lenses and consider alternatives to falling into the abyss. Sometimes, when the stars align, stories can change us.
Our show is populated with fascinating people facing choices we all can relate to: to go along to get along or honor our truth in the face of harsh consequences. It illustrates how what we think we’re capable of is much more powerful than what we actually are. It’s inspiring to see some of the braver patients break out of their cages (though none without their share of scars). If you let it, it may challenge your self-perception. But you’ll enjoy yourself along the way because these guys are funny.
Richard wants us to show up and to bring ideas to flesh these people out. He’s genuinely collaborative.
And it turns out, he was right in his McMurphy casting. Two dynamic actors are unleashing their Ids in different but compelling ways. It’s been fun to be in two productions during the rehearsal of one. A lot of the actors I’d seen are in this show. It’s been a pleasure to rehearse with them, try new things and build together. I’m learning.
Actors often say there are no small parts. But I’m fairly confident that Aide Williams’ parts are very small indeed. He doesn’t change or evolve. When you shackle yourself to meaninglessness, you can’t.
Thank God we still can.
Enjoy the show(s),
Chris Bibby plays Aide Williams