Friday, November 27, 2015

Lessons of Cuckoo

The Wave, for publication, Nov. 27, 2015
School Scope:  Lessons of Cuckoo
By Norm Scott

Watching a great play night after night for weeks is enlightening, not boring. Even at the closing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the RTC on Sunday I was seeing new things in the play. I got one such insight in the midst of saying my final lines as the doctor, which actually caused me to miss an important word, though I think I did recover in the next line. The relationship between Nurse Ratched and her nominal boss, Dr. Spivey, is a small but crucial subplot. Not only does Ratched rule the ward with an iron hand, she also rules the weak doctor who she manipulates in every which way to get what she wants. When she wants use the threat of  electro-shock therapy or the disastrous lobotomy in order to control and ultimately turn McMurphy into a vegetable, she still needs the doctor’s permission.

I have only 3 scenes in the play but each one moves the story along. In the first one the doctor is introduced to McMurphy and sees for the first time someone stand up to the nurse in ways that he did not imagine. He explains to McMurphy the rules of the therapeutic community and group therapy. He tells McMurphy that he should write down anything another patient says in the log book and asks if he know what that procedure is called, McMurphy asks, “Squealing?” The nurse smiles at the doctor benevolently when he corrects McMurphy: Group Therapy is what it is called.

By the next scene something has happened. Doc and McMurphy enter the ward arm in arm laughing and clowning. Clearly, McMurphy has used his charms on the doctor to wean him away from the nurse’s control – not because he cares about him – he actually also has no respect for the doctor – but in his war with the nurse, anything goes.  When nurses suggests shock therapy, doc says no and sides with Mac, pointing out that in the absence of violence shock therapy is not indicated. But soon enough there is some violence and sure enough, shock therapy is ordered.

In the doctor’s final scene, we see Mac enter post-shock therapy as a zombie. Doc and nurse full well know he is playing around but the other patients don’t know and are shocked. Then Mac springs into life, dancing and singing with such vigor, a relieved audience breaks into applause. They too have been taken in by Mac. Nurse is outraged but doc can’t stop laughing as he enjoys Mac’s show and actually breaks out into guffaws at some of the outrageous things Mac says. So Nurse pulls another power card and escalates things by asking doc to prescribe a pre-frontal lobotomy and doc flat out refuses, standing up to her for the first time, saying that he will never agree unless there is recurrent violence. And of course the tragedy play out when violence does recur. Mac has taken away not only the patients from nurse but here we see she has lost Doc, her foil. And that now makes her desperate to regain her authority. Mac must either leave or have the operation to tame him and set an example. She must provoke him into violence so she can get what she wants, even if that violence is a threat to her. These insights came to me in the midst of reciting my final lines and even if the final performance, I stood up taller to nurse than I had before.

The roles played by nurse and mac are symbols of authority that go beyond institutions to nations and the people who resist authority and even touches on the current roots of terrorism. Is Mac a version of a terrorist and Nurse the voice of the states trying to stop him? Themes I shall explore in future columns.

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