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'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' brings dark comedy to the stage

During rehearsal last week, Winni Players performing in the latest Winni Playhouse community production, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ psych ward patients in the play, including led role McMurphy (Matt Finch) play a card game while devising a plan. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
February 03, 2011
The Winni Players, the community branch of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, truly represent the Lakes Region, with half a dozen Gilford residents on the cast list of the upcoming "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Director of the 1960s-inspired play Matt McGonagle is also a Gilford resident and has directed several community productions in past years. A few new Winni Players have not set stage since middle school, yet for others acting has become addictive, and some current cast members are racking up their fifth or sixth performance at the playhouse.

Members of the Lakes Region devote months of their time to such performances, and while cast members are still soaking in the experience this year, many have said the dark comedy, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," delves deeper into the minds and hearts of humans, and presents a challenge for the actor.

Producer Diane Nickerson said while the content of the play may be challenging and dark, it is great for a community performance because of its large ensemble cast list.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is based on late the American author Ken Kesey's famous novel published in 1962. After playwright Dale Wasserman wrote a script, the rest became history and the play hit Broadway. The play continues to be a popular performance and has been adapted into a movie starring Jack Nicholson.

The story focuses on the character Randal Patrick McMurphy (Matt Finch) who desires to outwit the very institution, a 1960s psychiatric ward, he finds himself trapped within. McMurphy is a character known for talking his way out of anything, yet he also finds that he has underestimated his "bully" Nurse Ratched (Tamara McGonagle).

In order to gain the upper hand on an institution and the nurse that runs the facility with her own prerogative, McMurphy influences other patients of the ward to rise against the authority Nurse Ratched and her manipulative ways. For the main character, this not only becomes a battle against a nurse, but a battle for the sake of humanity.

Gilford High School English teacher Matt Finch plays the lead role, McMurphy, in the upcoming Winnipesaukee Playhouse's performance. Finch has been involved with the playhouse for the past five years, and prior to his residency in the Lakes Region, he also performed in theater while teaching in Maine.

"This is something I grew up doing and it is nice and exciting to have the playhouse around, and to continue on with this," said Finch. "I have a very complicated character. He is very deep and there are a lot of different levels involved."

According to Finch, sometimes his character is the straight, cold and calculating man, and other times he is the clown.

"This is the first community dark comedy compared to many of the others. It's a different style and it is a challenge for the actors, but we have tons of really talented people in the area," said Finch. "It's nice to have folks in the play that people will recognize, yet there are also some new people. It's an interesting mix."

Finch said he would encourage anyone out in the community remotely interested in participating with the Winni Players to do so, whether they want to act on stage, work behind the scenes, or participate in different workshops at the playhouse.

While Finch is no stranger to the stage, new actors such as Jessica Levasseur, playing Candy Starr, have not set stage since their grade school years.

Levasseur is a Gilford resident and para-educator at GHS. She said she was influenced by some of her peers in the surrounding area to join the Winni Players this year.

"This is my first time doing community theater. It's been really exciting and a little bit nerve-wrecking," said Levasseur. "We have a lot of talent and this is an awesome experience."

Nick Resca, also a Gilford resident and para-educator at Gilford Elementary School, plays the character Billy Bibbitt, a patient at the institution.

While Resca has a strong theater background, this will be his first performance at the playhouse. In high school, Resca was involved with musicals and plays, and earned his degree in music and theater in his college years. This past summer he also participated in a Maine production and said he was happy to move back to the Lakes Region to find a local playhouse established.

"I am glad to keep acting and glad to be a part of this," said Resca. "It has made me use my college skills a lot. I had to do my research and re-familiarize myself with acting and put myself in the shoes of a mental patient."

Resca said he strives not to present the stereotypical mentally ill character and hopes that his character's individuality will be evident on stage.

The Winni Players will present "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" on Feb. 11 – Feb. 20 at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse currently located in the Weirs. For more information visit www.winniplayhouse.org for dates, times, and ticket information.

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