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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007 08:57 am

Cuckoo redux

Stage version of Ken Kesey novel plays at UIS next week

Matt Ratz plays McMurphy in the TriCara Production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Untitled Document What has to be the most exciting stage show of the fall is the upcoming One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the stage version of the classic 1962 Ken Kesey novel, directed by Matt Schwartz for two performances, Nov. 16 and 17, at the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Studio Theatre. Most people associate Cuckoo with Jack Nicholson and the 1975 Milo? Forman film. This powerhouse script, however, was originally performed on Broadway in 1963 with Kirk Douglas in the lead. (A 2001 revival starred Gary Sinise.) “I cannot even begin to wrap my head around this play,” says Schwartz. “It is bold, visceral, hysterical, and frightening. It stays with you. It makes you react.”
The plot concerns prisoner Randle McMurphy who decides to declare himself insane so that he will be sent to a mental institution, thinking that that will be a better life than jail. There he comes into contact and conflict with the domineering Nurse Ratched, who handles her patients with a firm hand, to say the least. McMurphy is a Christ figure of sorts, and the play takes a look at the injustice of some of the treatment the mentally ill endured just a few decades ago. It’s a rollercoaster ride of a play, with the kind of characters actors love to sink their teeth into. This TriCara Productions play features Matt Ratz as McMurphy and Mary Young as Nurse Ratched. Though Young and Ratz have the big roles, the play is truly an ensemble piece, and Schwartz has assembled some wonderful area actors, including Don Schneider, Steve Sykes, Regan Smith, Ralph Shank, Patrick Russell, and Amanda Ratz. “The best part of this play is that it’s all character-driven,” says Schwartz. “It is one of the only stories I think about that incites rage to the point of tears, yet as the play unfolds you understand why these things happen.”
For tickets, call the Sangamon Auditorium box office (217-206-6160). Another special offering next week is a one-performance staged reading of The Exonerated, directed by Dennis Rendleman, presented Nov. 13 on the stage of Brookens Auditorum at UIS. This play uses interview and court transcripts of cases involving innocent people who have been wrongly convicted of murder and sent to Death Row. Authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen premiered their play in Los Angeles; it played more than 600 performances in New York. This production of the UIS Pre-Law Center features Kamau Kemayo, Carly Shank, Demetrius Delancy, Myaa Fallon, Dennis Rendleman, Grant Johnson, Mike Wallace, Cari Keysear, Patrick Foster, and Nick Teeter. The reading is free. A discussion will follow the 7 p.m. presentation.
Finally, Over the Moon Productions is giving a staged reading of the play 84 Charing Cross Road for one performance, 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at the Williamsville State Bank on Old Jacksonville Road. Helene Hanff’s book-turned-play-turned-film tells the story of a New York writer who orders books over a 20-year period from a small bookstore in London. Leigh Steiner plays Hanff, and Kevin Purcell portrays the bookseller. Georgia Dirksen takes on several roles in the reading.
Director/writer/actor Phil Funkenbusch is a regular contributor. 
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