I’ll start this with the opening of a Leonard Cohen song
“Like a Bird on the Wire
Like a Drunk in an Old Midnight Choir.
I have tried
in my way,
To be Free.”
In those lines, I find what everyone in this play is trying to grasp hold of and perhaps what many of us have been trying to attain during our time spent here.
…from a prison cell or a fenced-in backyard.
…from a job, a breadline, a mortgage, an income, a handout.
…from a relationship, a commitment, a promise, a betrayal, an obligation.
…from debt, unhappiness, anxiety and oddly enough - contentment.
The patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are seeking Freedom. Some from a self-imposed isolation, some from embarrassment and insecurity over their sexual prowess and failures, others hand-delivered by their mother, one patient drifts off into hallucinations to find his freedom, another intends to blow up the world and is encouraged by a patient who most likely found his freedom by reverting into a badly behaved child. The minds of these patients have become a wilderness of wild thought, irrational fears, self doubt and foreboding.
They are some of the sheep you will meet.
And then there’s the staff.
First - two predators, taunting, poking the sheep like hyenas on The Serengeti.
The born yesterday nurse clutching to the crucifix around her neck and the doctor who surrendered his masculinity years ago.
And then you have the wolf. The wolf has one goal - to kill and eat the sheep, and she does so with cloying sweetness and a bloodthirsty skill.
Enter the shepherd who does not know he is the shepherd - savior - or that he will soon become the martyr.
Henry Thoreau wrote that he would sit outside on Main Street in Concord, MA and watch the townsmen walking down the street and he could see their homes, barns, obligations, responsibilities and duties carried on their bent backs, weighing and slowing them down.
On the characters in this play, the weight of their burdens, fears, unease and apprehension can be seen clearly strapped to their backs causing their innermost selves to buckle.
As for the wolf, she carries the twisted dents in her armor that cause her to play the supreme butcher of men’s spirits, as well as their cojones.
Thoreau also wrote this:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
And that, Dear Audience Member could be any one of us, as it certainly is for all of the characters in this play.
Whether loud, soft or silent, the desperation in each character can be seen, smelled and tasted.
Seen in their eyes, smelled in their muck sweat and tasted in the drippings of their blood.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is often cited as a play about Rebellion.
It is not about Rebellion.
It is about…
It is about the hunger and thirst deep inside the soul.
It is about surrender and foreboding.
It’s about the spiritual gifts given and the gifts taken away.
It is about angst, strength of character, cowardice and courage.
It is about the millions of uncounted heads, the unwashed and those who think they carry weight.
It is about the mountains full of lost sheep, a shepherd and a wolf.
And it is about fallen angels and broken wings.
I will now end this note with the ending of a Billy Joe Shaver song.
“There's a story in the Bible
About the eagle growing old
How it grows new sets of feathers
Then becomes both young and strong
Then it spreads its mighty wingspan
Out across the open sky
We will have the wings of eagles
When the fallen angels fly.”
In this play, some fallen angels will be gifted the wings of eagles, while some will remain tethered to this earth.
Richard Dominick is the director of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. He also directed 12 Angry Men, Spider's Web and Ripcord for PPTC.