Sunday, February 6, 2011

Glancing ahead: Gretchen Corbett as Nurse Ratched in 'Cuckoo's Nest'

Gretchen Corbett measures Nurse Ratched./Andy Batt
By Barry Johnson

Portland Center Stage starts previews of Dale Wasserman's stage version of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on Tuesday, Feb. 22. I like that artistic director Chris Coleman has embraced Kesey: This production coming three years after the company's adaptation of Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, which people still talk about to me. We -- and I mean Oregonians, specifically -- still have a lot of processing to do when it comes to Kesey, the significance of what he wrote and who he was to us, and Coleman is giving us a chance to do some of that processing.

As a sort of preview (without being a preview), Portland Monthly asked me to write something about the show. This was back in December, and when I started, casting hadn't even been announced. But then one of the critical choices was made: Gretchen Corbett would play Nurse Ratched.  And the story became about Corbett and Kesey's great, scary face of the "Combine," which is what Chief Bromden called what Pres. Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex," except that in Bromden's fantasies (some would say paranoid fantasies) that "complex" had already wired the buildings and humanoids for control.

I think of Corbett as bright and funny, but with enough shrewdness about the ways of the world to make Nurse Ratched a plausible leap. Also toughness.  But you can read all about it in Portland Monthly.

If I get a spare moment, I'm going to write about "place" in this production -- because director Rose Riordan and stage designer Tony Cisek found the setting of the play (and of the great film made from the novel) to be critical to their thinking.