Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Cosi by Louis Nowra, HIT ***

By Louis Nowra, HIT Productions
Touring country Victoria until May 3, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Cosi is clearly on the VCE syllabus this year because the audience was packed with groups of 17 year olds –and they enjoyed this production of Louis Nowra’s play immensely. Teachers love it too because it is riddled with themes that include Vietnam War, love and infidelity, drugs, mental illness power and difference.

The play was first staged in 1992 but is set in 1971 in Melbourne in the period of the Vietnam Moratorium. Nowra’s comedy is broad in this play and director Denis Moore take advantage of the slapstick and big, bold characterisations.

The story is based on an experience of Nowra’s own as a graduate. The lead character, Lewis (Michael Wahr), in a fit of his own madness, volunteers to direct a show with a group of mentally ill patients in an institution.
To make things madder, one particularly bolshie patient, Roy (Don Bridges), bullies the malleable Lewis into staging Cosi Fan Tutte, a Mozart opera sung in Italian. Of course his cast can’t sing, act or speak Italian,  – and not one has stable behaviour.

Of course, the comedy and the pathos arise out of the six actors various obsessions, disorders and compulsions that include nymphomania, pyromania, Compulsive-Obsessive Disorder, heroin addiction and others. 

Outside the institution, the real world carries on with protests about Vietnam, Free Love and political activism being the focus of Lewis’s girlfriend and best mate’s lives. Lewis realises that providing a positive experience for his cast is more important than global politics and war.

Jim Daly straddles that fine line of pathos and hilarity with his portrayal of Henry, the near-catatonic war obsessive. He breaks our hearts with his stammering speech about his father and the war. Wahr is suitably vulnerable and indecisive as Lewis. Bridges plays his antagonist, Roy, with manic energy and bravado. As the food-obsessed erotomaniac Cherry, Bessie Holland is hilariously domineering, loud and sassy and elicited roars of laughter from the audience.

Caroline Lee is compellingly accurate as the compulsive Ruth who counts her steps on stage and learns everybody’s role. Katie-Jean Harding captures an air of fragility in Julie the addict. Jacob Allan is bold and riotous as the rough-nut pyromaniac, Doug. Adrian Auld plays multiple roles but is best as the doped up musician, Zac.

Cosi is a funny, messy play that raises issues suitable for VCE study and makes us laugh a lot and weep a little.

By Kate Herbert

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