What happens when the inmates take over the asylum? The answer lies in wait within Ken Kesey’s outstanding, brilliant and original 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But, for Kesey, that was not the major question nor the impulse to write it. And, although he considered himself a countercultural link between the Beat Generation of the 50s and hippies of the 60s, he was not trying to make points about tuning in, turning on and dropping out, nor about revolution for the hell of it.

Rather, after spending much time as an aide in a veterans hospital where psychoactive drugs were experimentally used on residents, and talking extensively, privately with many of them he concluded that they were not insane, that society had pushed them out because they did not fit conventional ideas of human behavior.

That prompted his book. In it Randle McMurphy, an anti-authoritarian criminal , is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation where he soon bonds with men confined there such as nervous, stuttering Billy Bibbit, Charlie Cheswick, prone to temper fits, delusional Martini, Dale Harding who’s a well-educated paranoid  and “Chief” Bromden, a massive, silent American Indian presumed deaf and mute. Major conflict quickly develops with Nurse Mildred Ratched who rules the ward wielding an iron hand and unimpeded power.

You may recognize those elements. They became better known to the general public in the 1975 mutli-Academy award winning Milos Foreman film starring Jack Nicholson as Murphy. However Council Bluffs’ Chanticleer Theater is staging the 1963 stage version. Dale Wasserman wrote that script which Kesey thought did him justice. It has since played on Broadway in 2001 and off-Broadway in 1971.

Wasserman has major credits. He’s best known for the book of the musical about Miguel de Cervantes Man of La Mancha which ran on Broadway for five years, won five Tonys and has since become world famous. Wasserman was one of those playwrights who developed his art during the so-called Golden Age of Television, the late 1940s to the early 60s, when brilliant, outstanding drama was performed live on network TV. He had more than 30 scripts produced during that time. He was also a significant screen writer. More about him at http://www.dalewasserman.com/

Be prepared for strong language, disturbing developments and crazy laughter should you commit yourself to being confined in your seat.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest runs March 6 to 15 at Chanticleer Theater, 830 Franklin Avenue, Council Bluffs. Fri., Sat. 7:30.pm. Sun: 2.00 p.m. Tickets: $10-$20. http://www.chanticleertheater.com/

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