Tales from the Script: Cuckoo for Theatre Buffs

I recently became an actor at 2nd Story Theater. I did not foresee this happening. For the past three months, I have significantly compromised my academic standing, occupational success and mental wellbeing. I play one of Nurse Ratched’s underlings in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I sexually abuse a man with a broomstick.

I didn’t audition. I was recommended for the role because I had played it before. A friend who works at the theater mentioned me when 2nd Story was looking to fill the part, and I took advantage of the opportunity. The thing about having friends in creative circles is that they tend to hook up their other creative friends. Thanks, guys.

So, I like working at 2nd Story, I can’t underemphasize that. There are distinct pleasures that come from working in a professional theater, first off the audiences. I’ve seen plays with nine other people in the crowd besides me. In this theater, the house is filled to capacity almost every night. That’s like 200 faces staring right at me, point blank. And I can see them… more than I feel I should be able to. The combination of a superb light design and a total lack of space between seats and stage means I see every illuminated expression and every glazed geriatric glare.

I wheel out a gurney in this show. I push it through a narrow corridor lined with theater patrons. That gurney? It’s an asshole. It’s Scut Farkus and I am doomed to be Ralphie, my eyes welling up with tears as it refuses to cooperate. It gouged a hole in my thumb. It pulled a sweater off someone’s lap, and I’m pretty sure whoever I hit in the dark opening weekend will never walk again. I hate that gurney. Luckily, it works for the role.

My character, Aide Williams, hates his job. He hates himself, he hates you. He’s also supposed to be black. The lines are phonetically written in an archaic 1960s jive, and it’s supremely racist sounding. The first time I played this part, I performed with a crappy southern accent to compensate for the phonetics. And I play great white trash. This time around, Aide Williams is pure spite. Within the first five minutes of the show, I attempt to sodomize a mental patient, just because. But I can’t take all the credit.

Director Mark Peckham allowed most blocking on stage to unfold organically, deftly identifying and correcting problem areas to create what I think is a very polished show. Maybe I’m a little biased. As R.P. McMurphy, Aaron Morris exudes an infallible energy on stage. And Tanya Anderson manages this sterile Pleasantville vibe as Nurse Ratched, which all at once puts you at ease and makes you fear for your life.

The worst part of this process was the grueling rehearsal schedule. I have something like 10 lines in the entire show, and yet I’m on stage in what seems like every scene. That meant a lot of rehearsals, usually consuming my precious school nights; but not limited to 12-hour days during tech week. It was hellish, and my bit part may have demanded more than I expected, but it beats any other job I’ve been paid for. I’d rather be the worst actor in the world than the best bus boy.

This process has been a validation of all the creative work I’ve done while my peers were nine-to-fiving. I am a self-loathing hipster. A man-child with idealistic delusions who is not getting his life together. How long has it been since I washed these jeans? Am I wearing deodorant? What day is it, anyway? Whatever, I’m acting. I’d do this job for free and they’re paying me for it.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest plays through April 7. 28 Market Street, Warren. 247-4200, 2ndstorytheatre.com.

Photo by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.

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