One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a well-known story based on the 1962 Ken Kesey book. Shortly after it was adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman. It tells a complex story of institutional processes and the human mind, as well as a critique of behaviorism and a tribute to individualistic principles.
The original novel was written in 1959 in the midst of the civil rights movement and deep changes to the way psychology and psychiatry were being approached in America. The 1960s began the controversial movement towards deinstitutionalization, an act that would have affected the characters in the book.
The novel stems from the author’s experiences working the graveyard shift as an orderly at a mental health facility in California. Not only did he speak to the patients and witness the workings of the institution; he also voluntarily took psychoactive drugs like mescaline and LSD for Project MKUltra. This project was very controversial, and with good reason. It was a program where experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations in order to weaken the individual and force confessions through mind control. It’s clear that some of his experiences made their way into the story.
Today, there are more people talking about their mental health and about therapy than sixty years ago. Treatments are more humane and there’s less of a stigma. While the story has some forward thinking, it is still quite clearly a product of its time. Seeing the play in its original form will hopefully make you contemplate how far we’ve come since.
We did want to give it a bit of a modern spin that fit our style. We wanted to get a varied group of individuals together and prefer to cast for how well an actor embodies a role, as opposed to their cultural background or gender. This led to an eclectic cast that will figuratively pull you into the asylum with them to get a better look.