'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest': Iconic Show Gets Bigger Life at Evergreen Playhouse

Show Goes Beyond Nicholson Movie


In presenting “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at the Evergreen Playhouse, director Rich Garrett wanted to create a true ensemble piece that challenged what most people think of simply as a movie starring Jack Nicholson.

“I tried to allow these actors and actresses to take liberty with the material and find things outside of what people may have seen: moments of tenderness; moments of humanity; moments of brotherhood,” Garrett said. 

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” opens Friday at the Centralia theater and continues weekends through April 10. Based on a book by Ken Kesey, it is a darkly humorous look at the dysfunction of the 1960s psychiatric health care system. When career criminal Randle P. McMurphy (portrayed by Ryan Holmberg) pleads insanity to avoid a prison sentence, he ends up in an Oregon mental institution where he immediately clashes with the authoritarian Nurse Ratched (portrayed by Danielle Kays) and her brutal and bitter goons Aide Warren (portrayed by Steven Walker) and Aide Williams (portrayed by Mark Pendleton). He also befriends his fellow asylum residents Chief Bromden (portrayed by Christopher Crow), Dale Harding (portrayed by Isaac McKenzieSullivan), Cheswick (portrayed by Jordan Baker), Billy Bibbit (portrayed by Chris Bolduc), Scanlon (portrayed by Nick Hall), Martini (portrayed by Dave Marsh) and Ruckley (portrayed by Joe Sokolik) and begins pushing back at the unfair treatment they receive. He begins a campaign not only to get under the skin of Ratched but also to find a better life for the patients, who also begin to see themselves and their treatment in a different light.

“McMurphy is the catalyst,” Garrett said. “They all find their inner strength and I think that’s beautiful. We’re not all cogs in a never-ending wheel. We all have something to offer and our own humanity.”

Many people know “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for the 1975 movie featuring Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, to name a few. Garrett said the stage version is similar to both the movie and Kesey’s book, though there are some slight variations between all three. Garrett encouraged his cast not to watch the movie in preparation for the Evergreen show so they could explore their characters on a different level. Marsh said he liked that the very first rehearsal was spent delving into their characters’ backgrounds.

“I’ve really enjoyed this production with the attention to detail Rich has given it,” Marsh said. “Even down to the character who only repeats one line the entire show, none of the characters are one dimensional.”

Holmberg said the story of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” often gets boiled down to a war of wills between McMurphy and Ratched but there is really a much more complex story of how the powerful control the weak. The actual narrator of the story, Chief Bromden, likens the asylum and the systems of oppression it is part of to a combine that grinds people up.

“I’m expecting them to feel the whole gambit: joy, sadness, laughter, attraction, tears,” Holmberg said of what audiences will experience in this show. “Just when they think things can’t get funnier, an anvil rains down on them and you have this really sad part. And just when you think it can’t get sadder, this humor comes in.”

Garrett, who was part of the cast of the previous show, “Next to Normal,” which also dealt with mental illness themes, said given the state of the world right now he thinks it is an important topic to continue to present. He even designed the set to reflect the Chief’s dystopian world view, being orderly and neat on the right side of the stage and as you shift your view to the left you see the pieces beginning to come apart. Parents of younger theater-goers should be aware that “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has a suggested PG-13 rating for both adult language and themes.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the fourth of the Evergreen Playhouse’s five-show season. The last show of the year will be “Mamma Mia!” May 6-22. The Evergreen Playhouse has also brought back its One From The Shelf shows and will present “Charlie’s Aunt” on April 16 and “The Actor’s Nightmare” one June 18.

Audiences at “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at the Evergreen Playhouse will also be among the first to hear the lineup for the 2022-2023 season at the Evergreen Playhouse. Season tickets for next year will also be available for purchase starting with this show and will be available for purchase online starting April 11.

For Garrett, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a bittersweet because he and his wife, Kris, will be moving out of the community for a new job. The couple have been active in the Evergreen Playhouse for many years and will still come back to the community in the summers for their Theatre of Arts Discipline (TOAD) children’s theatre productions. “Next to Normal” marked Rich Garrett’s last role on the playhouse’s stage and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” will be his last show directing with Kris stage managing and will be the last set he builds for the theater.

“We have loved and absolutely cherished sharing our love of the arts with this community,” Rich Garrett said.