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DWU teams up with community

Randle McMurphy (second from right) takes bets from his fellow inmates, from left, Cheswick (Aaron Krumholz), Scanlon (Al Jacklin) and Martini (Alex Burringer) -- an illegal activity in Ward B. Throughout the play, McMurphy (played by DWU student Chris Ferera) does what he can to thwart the iron grip Nurse Ratched has over the ward. (Candy DenOuden/Republic)

Only one bird flew over the proverbial cuckoo's nest, but two local groups have banded together to perform the renowned play.

Dakota Wesleyan University and the Mitchell Area Community Theater joined forces to put on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which debuts today at the Pepsi Cola Theater.

Dan Miller, DWU's assistant professor and director of theater, said the collaboration seemed like a natural step for him, since students and community members have participated in DWU theater productions for six years.

"It just made more sense -- why not do a joint effort?" he said.

ACT manager Carm Roster agreed, adding that this provided a way for ACT to help DWU financially.

"Dan's budget is really limited; we thought this would be a way for his students to have experience with different options -- everything from costumes to the props to the stage," she said.

"We've always had a good relationship with the theater department at Dakota Wesleyan, and so we just thought this would be a good way to give some back to the community through the college."

ACT is funding the play, but Roster said it's not a one-sided relationship.

"It's also a way to bring some of (Miller's) students into the Area Community Theater group," Roster said. "It kind of gives them a 'this is what you can expect' from a community group."

And, even though ACT is footing the bill, Roster said the theater house would have spent the money anyway. "We always do five shows, and they're collaborating with us on one of those shows," she said. "We already have our budget in place for that." Finding someone to direct the play was no problem. "Obviously, as the theater director, (Miller) has plenty of talent, so we've let him run with that," Roster said.

As for the timing, Miller and Roster said it just seemed to work.

When the two groups looked at working together, both had lists of plays they were interested in. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was on both lists.

"We picked a show that we thought would do well. We just happened to have one of the same on this list," Roster said.

That the play coincides with DWU's homecoming week, and the 50th anniversary of Ken Kesey's book, upon which the play is based, were not planned.

"That just happened. We always do a show this time," Roster said. "It worked out really nice."

The play centers on the exploits of "manic free spirit," Randle McMurphy, who pleads insanity to avoid a prison work detail. He is sent to a state hospital, where he meets a colorful group of patients, and the tyrannical Nurse Ratched who runs the ward.

Throughout the play, McMurphy seeks to hold on to what freedoms he can, while inspiring the other patients to do the same.

For Miller, he said he thinks the message of the play is just as relevant as it was 50 years ago.

"The reason I wanted to do this play, I feel it has a great social message within it, and that message is, 'be a free spirit and don't let the man get you down,' is basically what it is," he said. "Be free, be yourself."

A cast of 15 patients, ward staff and McMurphy's female friends is equally distributed between students and community members, Miller said.

Many of those characters were made famous in the 1975 film version, particularly Jack Nicholson's memorable portrayal as McMurphy.

And, as one might expect, the characters depicted in a mental hospital are just that -- characters. But, Miller said his cast has risen to the occasion.

"I've got such a talented group of people with this show, it's just been a delight directing all of them," he said. "They have created characters that I know everybody is going to love."

After six weeks of rehearsals, Miller said he is excited for opening night, and for future partner projects.

"I've had a wonderful time with this production," Miller said. "This has been a wonderful experience and I look forward to doing it again."