BY BARB BERGGOETZ
Nothing makes actor Mike Price more nervous than being in a play that was a famous movie.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest certainly qualifies as such. But Price, who takes on the Jack Nicholson role, and Cardinal Stage Company Artistic Director Randy White say the upcoming production will be electric and thought-provoking — not to mention funny — yet different than the movie.
“It’s got serious things to say, but it also has comic aspects to it, dramatic aspects, and a fight scene or two. That makes it challenging,” says Price, who has played Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Anne Frank’s father in The Diary of Anne Frank, and the preacher in The Grapes of Wrath, as well as many other roles at Cardinal Stage.
But it’s a relief to him that the play actually differs somewhat from the movie, so people won’t compare it directly to the Academy Award–winning film, based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey. Cardinal Stage’s production will run February 12–28 in the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium.
“It’s a little closer to the book, but it has its own take on things,” says Price, who plays the role of Randle McMurphy. “The stage production is more of an ensemble piece with more focus on all of the characters.”
The stage adaptation, written by Dale Wasserman, originally appeared on Broadway in 1963 and was revived in 2001. White says a major reason Cardinal chose this play was to give outstanding roles to two of its best actors — Price and Constance Macy, of Indianapolis, who plays Nurse Ratched. The play, set in a mental hospital, portrays McMurphy’s conflicts with Ratched, as well as the treatment of several other patients.
“It’s one of the great, high-noon showdowns of all time,” says White. “We haven’t done a lot of stories like this — high-energy, explosive, aggressive, Steppenwolf-like theater.”
White says he also wanted to produce the play because he’s a fan of Kesey’s work, although he doesn’t agree with all of his opinions. The book, he adds, was an important game changer in how people thought about government and the structure of power. White says he hopes today’s audience will realize the importance of being more understanding of all types of people.
“The play has held up extraordinarily well,” he says. “It doesn’t read like 1962; it reads very contemporary.”