Cosi

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 An introduction to Cosi ouis Nowra was inspired to write Cosi after a visit to a performance of Hello Dolly with a group of mental patients in 1970. He worked with this group of patients to produce a version of Trial By Jury which helped many of the patients to “blossom” and also revealed the ignorance of a student leader who ridiculed the patients’ efforts. Nowra claims that the play is a combination of fact and fiction. In Cosi, a mature Nowra looks back and evaluates his youthful self and the political environment in which he grew up. Lewis is a naive young director who is faced with the daunting task of directing a group of mental patients in a play. Cosi Fan Tutte is chosen by the exuberant and forceful Roy who overwhelms the inexperienced Lewis. The rest of the cast is less enthusiastic particularly as the play seems to demand an ability to sing and speak Italian. Roy prevails and Lewis is required to work with a motley cast of characters in a run-down theatre so that Roy’s dream can become a reality. The time Lewis spends with Doug, the pyromaniac, Cherry, the nymphomaniac, Julie, a drug addict, Ruth, a dogged realist, the introverted and silent Henry, the Lithium-addicted pianist Zac, and Roy, the exuberant dreamer, proves to be a humanising experience for Lewis. This experience has repercussions for his personal life as he copes with the contempt and criticism of his girlfriend Lucy and his politically obsessed friend, Nick. Lucy’s betrayal, Lewis’ attraction to Julie and his growing sense of alienation from the political preoccupation of the 1970s all forms part of the fabric of the play as does the performance of Cosi Fan Tutte itself. Structurally, the play uses the device of the play-within-a-play to comment on the drama which is taking place in Lewis’s life outside the theatre and between the “outside” characters, Nick and Lucy, and the inmates. The themes of love and fidelity which are the concerns of Cosi Fan Tutte are played out in the real life relationships of Lucy, Lewis, Nick and Julie. The sexism of the opera is objected to by Lucy and Nick because it represents values at odds with the political concerns of the 1970s as regards both war and the rights of women. Love is considered to be bourgeois and irrelevant to Lucy but Lewis, who begins his directing career as Lucy’s mouthpiece, develops his own sense of what is important. The conflict between Nick and Henry, also instigated by the opera, transforms Henry from a stuttering idiot to a passionate idealist and reveals much that is empty about the rhetoric surrounding the Vietnam war and the view of “love” which prevailed at the time. We are able to observe the behaviour of both the sane and the insane and this leads us to question, as Nowra wants us to, the distinction between what is “normal” and “abnormal”. Many of the values which the play endorses are spoken by the inmates and often their vision seems far more acceptable than that of the characters who occupy the world outside the asylum. He does this without labouring the point: we never really forget that Doug and Roy, Ruth and Julie and Henry are in the institution for real reasons but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have emotions and values which are worthy of affection and respect. A perspective on Cosi osi is about many things: love, fidelity, the fragility of human relationships, about so called “crazy” people and so called “normal” people, a celebration of the spirit, a journey of people absorbed in themselves finding a way out of themselves and, ultimately, it is about the humanising of Lewis. Mad actors are bad enough, but madmen... These words uttered by Nick in the opening scene as Lewis, Lucy and Nick stumble about in the dark of the burnt-out theatre, establish a view that reflects the prevailing attitude of the time. Nick’s quick exit when Roy arrives reinforces this fear of the mentally unstable. Lewis is left alone to face the cast of inmates and to begin his own struggle with...
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