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Renowned director Pitts-Wiley joins CCRI Players for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Renowned director Pitts-Wiley joins CCRI Players for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The Community College of Rhode Island Players are collaborating with Rhode Island theatre royalty this week for a special production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a novel written by Ken Kesey that was later adapted into the historic 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson that went on to win all five major Academy Awards the year it was released.

Directed by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley – a lifelong storyteller, photographer, and director who, along with his wife, Kim Pitts-Wiley, is the Artistic Director of Mixed Magic Theatre in Pawtucket, RI, which was founded by his parents, Ricardo and Bernadet Pitts-Wiley – the Players' adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest runs from this Thursday, February 29 through March 3 with a variety of showtimes at the Warwick Campus' Bobby Hackett Theatre. 

Tickets are available onlineOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest debuts tomorrow at 7:30 pm and continues Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 before concluding with a 2 pm Sunday matinee.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, the legendary actor, playwright, composer, and director who co-founded Mixed Magic Theatre 24 years ago, was originally tabbed to direct this week's play, but prior commitments forced him to pass the assignment on to his son, Jonathan, who felt a special connection to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest considering his father starred in previous adaptations of the play and was one of the first Black actors to reprise the lead role of Randle Patrick McMurphy (portrayed in the film by Nicholson). 

“Growing up, I had an affinity for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and then with the film adaptation featuring so many incredible actors, and even years ago the 2nd Story Theater [in Warren, RI] did a wonderful adaption, so it’s a body of work I’m particularly fond of,” Pitts-Wiley said.

“As I’ve said to the actors, too often people take a classic piece of work and try too hard to put their spin on it. For me as a director, the really great opportunity is in who is the ensemble gathered to tell this story, and in that you see those twists and turns. With the right ensemble, those spins and twists and turns and unique looks will articulate themselves. As a director, that’s the part I enjoy most – how can we, together, do justice to this story and these moments of brilliance throughout the work?”

CCRI’s adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest stars Players’ newcomer Ayana Lyn DeSimone as Nurse Ratched; Max Hayden as McMurphy; Shelby Cray as Billy Bibbit; Brian McKenna as Aide Williams; newcomers Samantha Gromkiewicz as Nurse Flinn, Connor Maddix as Aide Turkle, and Miguel Soto-Sanchez as Aide Warren; and Noah Parker Goldman as Scanlon. Kameron Threatt, Joel Rodriguez, Benjamin Card, Jalen Rodriguez, Jaedon Cole, Nate Campbell, Elissa Parente, and Allison Wong are featured in accompanying roles.

“My job as a director is to give an actor a little more than they can handle and let them rise to the occasion,” Pitts-Wiley said. “We want this to be a challenging, thoughtful experience that makes them want to do more. There are a number of first-timers on this production and each of them have done a tremendous job and that’s truly a testament to the department that [Theatre Program Coordinator] Ted Clement is running. Everyone committed to being excellent on an individual level.”  

The novel focuses on McMurphy, a Korean War veteran and criminal who pleads insanity and is admitted to a mental institution, where he rallies up the scared patients against the tyrannical nurse. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest explores the themes and ideas that explain human thoughts and behaviors and what makes them unique – themes that are still prevalent today, and perhaps even more heightened during an era in which mental health has become a major focus.

“The notions, not just socially, but scientifically, about what was written in the novel and adapted in the film, there are certainly universal themes and tropes that allow you to appreciate the difference in approaches. Having to grapple with that has been interesting,” said Pitts-Wiley.

“This is a doozy of a show. This show is big. A lot of themes, a lot of tropes – heavy stuff.”

In the novel, Kesey relates the story of the clash between the repressive and rebellious wills, respectively, of Nurse Ratched and McMurphy from the viewpoint of a paranoid schizophrenic named Chief Bromden. Aside from a fishing excursion led by McMurphy with an accompanying doctor and eleven patients, the entire novel is set in the psychiatric hospital where McMurphy may or may not be feigning insanity to escape the hard labor of a work farm.

In 1993, the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest film adaptation was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. 

“In many ways, this is like doing a show with old friends. It’s generational and I’m very fortunate to be part of things like this,” Pitts-Wiley said. “When my father mentioned the schedule, I talked to Ted a day and a half later and worked it out. It’s great to be able to work with people who are not only talented, but kind and of a shared value in terms of the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of what we’re doing. It’s been refreshing in many respects.”

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