'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' opens at Andria Theatre Jan. 26
The show, directed by Ann Hermes, takes on the topic of mental illness.
ALEXANDRIA — Mental illness is a topic that has been taboo for so long but it's finally being talked about openly and honestly, and the Andria Theatre is hoping its latest production can shed even more light on this important topic.
Ann Hermes said they are not holding back in the theater’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Hermes, the director, said this show takes a really gritty look at life in a former state hospital. She also noted that if people are offended by strong language, it may not be for them.
“This show delves into mental illness, which is such an important topic,” said Hermes. “It looks at what mental illness was like in the early 1960s. It’s really an ugly mirror.”
Because the show is “so intense,” said Hermes, the Andria Theatre is doing something a bit different for two of the shows. On Friday, Jan. 27 and Friday, Feb. 3, the theater is inviting guests to stay after the show for a “talk back.”
Alexandria psychologist Carolyn Giannone will facilitate the talk back, which Hermes said will give the audience a chance to ask the cast and crew questions and discuss the topic of mental illness.
“We want to give people time to process what they’ve seen,” said Hermes.
According to the Andria Theatre’s website, topics of conversation will include the actors’ processes for portraying their characters, the role of mental health care and stigma and the true meaning of power, control and freedom.
Hermes said the cast, which is made up of mostly men and includes many newcomers to the stage, has worked really hard and wants to make this production as real as it can be.
“It’s a very strong show, but it has been fun to see the choices that have been made by not only the seasoned actors, but also the new actors,” she said.
Learning a new role at the Andria
Heather Hjelle is really no stranger to the stage as she not only acts, but she is a professional opera singer. She has been in several productions at the Andria, but for this production, she has taken on a new role – assistant director. She says she is there to back up Hermes and support her anyway she can.
“Ann has taught me a lot,” said Hjelle, explaining that as a seasoned actor, you forget that those who are new may not know theater lingo, like “stage left” or “stage right.”
She said Hermes is great at explaining the basics and that she feels so grateful to be able to be learning from her.
In this production, Hjelle said it really takes a look at how people with mental illness were treated and it is a great way to learn what was done wrong and to be able to move forward.
“If we forget our past mistakes, we are destined to repeat them,” she said.
She also said that it has been a joy watching the group of men working together. Although the show is heavy, she said it is not so heavy that people won’t get a good laugh or two. And she said people shouldn’t be afraid in any sort of way to come and see the show.
And speaking of being afraid, Hjelle said those who want to become involved in the theater shouldn’t be afraid to try the “backstage stuff” – like being assistant director – because it makes you have more respect for what they do.
Strong, silent type
Chuck Grussing, who is playing the role of Chief Bromden, is actually reprising that role. His first play when moving to the area in 2011 was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It’s the only role he has ever reprised in his years as an actor.
Grussing is a familiar face at the Andria Theatre as he has been in several shows since moving here. Prior to the Andria stage, Grussing has also been in productions in Morris, Glenwood and Barrett.
As for his character, Grussing said the chief is the strong, silent type and is someone who has a troubled past. He said Chief Bromden has some cultural issues that clutter his life.
And as for why Grussing keeps making his way onto the stage, he said because it’s fun.
“It’s social. I’m drawn to it and to meeting new people,” said Grussing, adding that he has greatly benefited from them over the years.
First time on stage in 40 years
When Bruce McKirdy was in high school, he acted in many plays and won awards for being part of the one-act plays. While in college, he was in two different productions, including “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Playing the role of Scanlon in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the first time for him acting on the Andria Theatre stage and the first time he’s been on stage in 40 years, he said.
As he travels for work, McKirdy said he doesn’t have the time it takes to commit to a play. However, it ended up that this production worked perfectly in his schedule. But, he was actually not cast in the role in the beginning. His friend, Joe Korkowski, who has been in several plays at the Andria, got the role. A conflict came up and Korkowski ended up contacting McKirdy, asked him to check his schedule and told him he should do it, said McKirdy.
He did and now he is playing the role of Scanlon, who he described as an insane rapist who likes to build bombs for fun.
Playing this role has been a bit of a challenge, said McKirdy, but said the cast has been gracious and helpful.
“It’s going to be a good play,” he said.
Chief Bromden – Chuck Grussing
Dale Harding – Mike Ryan
Billy Bibbit – Kevin Bienias
Scanlon – Bruce McKirdy
Cheswick – Mike Ardito
Martini – Nick Segaar
Ruckley – Brian Fleming
Randle P. McMurphy – Randy Martin
Aide Warren – Rick Dusterhoft
Aide Williams – Tim Evans
Dr. Spivey – Pete Woit
Nurse Ratched – Sharon Thalmann
Nurse Flinn – Sandy Susag
Aide Turkle – Larry Shjerve
Candy Starr – Brooklynn Bruner
Sandy – Janice Larson
World Series announcer – Tim Evans
Director – Ann C. Hermes
Assistant director – Heather Hjelle
Set designer – Greg Bohl
Lighting designer – Maryn Cabinaw
Sound design – Greg Raether
Costumes – Janice Larson
Set builder – Greg Bohl
Hair/makeup – Tanya Hammer
Props – Hilary Ninman
Sound board – Greg Raether
Light board – Maryn Cabinaw
Recording – Colton LaSota
Recording – Scott Keehn
If you go
WHAT: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
WHEN: Jan. 26 through Jan 28 and Feb. 2 through Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Andria Theatre, 618 Broadway St., Alexandria
TICKETS: Go to www.andriatheatre.org or call the box office at 320-762-8300.