In this corner, wearing her white uniform, complete with hat and shoes, is Nurse Ratched.

And in this corner, equipped with con man savvy and rogue spirit, is Randle P. McMurphy.

They will be ready to rumble in an epic battle of wills as the curtain raises Nov. 2 on Theatre Baton Rouge's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," a story of institutional processes versus the human spirit set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital.

Nurse Ratched, played by Lily McGill, runs her ward with an iron fist. No one dares cross her for fear of being sent upstairs for a session of electroconvulsive therapy.

That is, until new patient Randle P. McMurphy, played by Kenneth Mayfield, enters the ward.

McGill said Ratched is different from the stone-cold character Louise Fletcher played in the in the 1975 film. 

"She really does care about her patients," McGill said. "And she shows that in the beginning. She knows them and she's softer in her approach, and she really does want to help them."

Still, Austin Ventura, who plays the stuttering young Billy Bibbet, sees her fierce side.

"There are times when Lily's lines scare me," he said. "They really do scare me. She'll look at me and say, 'Oh Billy,' in a concerned way, then she'll follow it with, 'I'll have to make a note of that.'"

The ward is not "all sunshine and rainbows" before McMurphy gets there, McGill said, but it is functioning.

"I think she gives the patients a chance to do what she thinks is the right thing," director Clay Donaldson said. "She lets things fester more, and you get to see more of the journey she takes to get to where she is."

He said the play differs from the movie in that "it creates characters who do questionable and bad things, yet you can still find common ground with them. It's like looking at society in miniature from the outside."

The story is narrated by Chief Bromden, played by Mike Sager, a gigantic yet docile half-Native American patient who pretends to be deaf and mute.

Then enters McMurphy, who has faked insanity to serve his sentence for battery and gambling in the hospital rather than at a prison work farm. The chief suddenly awakens from his stupor, as do the rest of the patients.

But McMurphy has his own problems.

"He's a con man, and he knows how to play the system," Mayfield said. "But even though he's a con man, he's willing to help. He knows he's cheated the system to get there, but he's created relationships in that hospital that cause him to stay there, which also cause him to pay the ultimate price in the end."

The power struggle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched is immediate and plays out with some casualties along the way.


'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'

A Theatre Baton Rouge production

WHEN: Nov. 2, Nov. 4, Nov. 8-11, Nov. 15-18. Performances at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. An additional matinee on Nov. 10.

WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge's Main Stage. 7155 Florida Blvd.

TICKETS/INFO: $25; $19, students. (225) 924-6496 or theatrebr.org

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.