Life was rough for the average white male in 1950s America. Although few women had jobs and fewer still had any semblance of power in the political or business world, women actually ran the entire country. At home, they psychologically emasculated their husbands and sons. Outside the house, they helped create a society that forced men into repressing their natural instincts and made them march, single file and gray-suited, into meaningless, soul-destroying jobs. It was women's malevolence rather than McCarthyism, corporatization or racism that was responsible for the stifling conformity of American culture — and this entire battle between the sexes began and ended in the male genitalia. The only woman exempt from devastating masculine critique was the pretty, free-spirited little chick who made her body available to any man who wanted it. Other than rebellious fucking, there were few ways for men to fight the system: They could be loud and bullying, watch sports (men's only), drink, whine and toss sexual insults at any mouthy bitch who came their way.
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Welcome to the world of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in which a heroic patient named McMurphy is consigned to a state mental institution (he was incarcerated for sleeping with a fifteen-year-old, but hey, she didn't look it, and she was more than willing, if you know what I mean). Inside, he meets a whole bunch of sad-sack men, almost every one of them destroyed by some woman or other. Young, stuttering Billy Bibbit has an overbearing, anti-sexual mother. Chief Bromden, a tall, powerful Native American whom the others believe to be deaf but who has actually silenced himself as a protest, watched his father broken by a wife who "made him too little to fight anymore."
McMurphy resolves to help these poor shmucks find their balls, but he's up against a fearsome adversary, the Castrating Bitch of All Castrating Bitches, Nurse Ratched, whose punishments range from playing Lawrence Welk and refusing to let the guys watch television (aww, Mom!) all the way to electroshock treatment and frontal lobotomy. Fortunately, McMurphy's up to the task. He swings his cane around and threatens physical violence, gets the guys their sports shows back, involves them in raucous card games, manipulates the female doctor while hurling sexual insults at Ratched, and provides the free-spirited chick who will help Billy Bibbit lose his stutter and find his manhood.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Presented by PHAMALY through February 3, Aurora Fox Theatre, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.phamaly.org.
This play, which premiered in 1963, was adapted by Dale Wasserman from Ken Kesey's novel, and from the very start doesn't make a lot of sense. While it's true that electroshock and lobotomy were absolute perversions of anything you might call medical care and were frequently inflicted on helpless victims, including women and children, all of the patients besides McMurphy are here voluntarily. They can leave. Just get up and walk out. Except, of course, that this would end the show, and then they'd be at the mercy of those all-powerful women lurking in their homes. Lest the audience figure out just how puerile all this is, the script includes a lot of half-baked symbolism and moony poeticizing: McMurphy is a rowdy Christ, sacrificing himself for the others; Chief, possessed of the mystic forces we know throb through the veins of all Native Americans, is the powerful potential adversary of all things institutional, and he needs to get his power back.
There are some good performances here — notably, Lucy Roucis as a subtle-voiced Nurse Ratched, Jason B. Dorwart as Billy Bibbit, Sean McGee as Chief, Mark Dissette as Dale Harding and Don Gabenski as Cheswick. Stephen Hahn plays McMurphy with a lot of heart and energy, though his work needs more modulation. Still, it's painful to see PHAMALY's considerable and generous-spirited talents — after all, this is a troupe of actors who understand just how difficult it is to be labeled and misunderstood — expended on such a rancid, dated vehicle.