Cosi, composed by Louis Nowra, is a minimalist play contextualised by the Vietnam War which emphasises the characters and their growth. Cosi explores the distinctive ideas of illusion verses reality and the concept of “madness” in a comedic and innovative way, through a variety of dramatic techniques. The device of a play-within-a-play of Cosi Fan Tutte, develops an effective dichotomy, while highlighting the dramatic verisimilitude of the values presented in the outside and inside worlds.
Lewis, a young, inexperienced radical and director of the production undergoes an extensive transformation during his participation in the opera as it becomes a catalyst for both him and the patients. The problematic nature of what is considered “normal” highlights the “insane” normality of existence, which enriches the principle of drama. The opening scene establishes the characters and the context of the play while exploring the distinctive ideas that are developing. The stage directions [A burnt out theatre] metaphorically represents the world at large, introducing the dramatic technique of light and dark.
Heavy irony is utilised when the lights turn on “a small dismal hall is revealed”. Through the illumination, a bleak situation is revealed symbolising the life that surrounds the inmates. Unable to differentiate between “normal” and “insane”, mistaking Roy as a social worker, “are you the social worker”, the distinct idea of illusion verses reality is introduced alongside the protagonist, Lewis, allowing responders to realise Lewis is [out of his depth] with both the production and the patients. The truncated sentences and Lewis’ hesitant tone reveals his nervousness, [uncertainly] “yes”, exploring the idea through his mannerism.
As the opening scene further develops the responder’s grasp the ideas that explore Lewis’ values. His values and well as his friends, Nick and Lucy, are shaped political issues, “love is not so important these days, you know the Vietnam War”, which links the play-within-a-play to the outside world. Lewis’ motivations are strictly pecuniary, “I need the money”, exploring the idea that he has no artistic intentions or moral dedications to help the mentally ill. However, ironically, he gains as much from his involvement in Cosi Fan Tutte as the patients do.
The stage directions, [but he knows he will never leave] indicates that Lewis is undergoing a journey of change where he will re-think his values and ideas, reassessing his place in the world. Act One juxtaposes the outside and the inside worlds, as well as the theatrical world that Lewis orchestrates through the dramatic structure employed by Nowra. The patients become completely involved in the production, the dramatic device of humour explores the character’s eccentricities and foibles, which although provides comic relief a growing empathy from the audience emerges as the individuals tragedies are revealed.
The reoccurring tragic motif of “the pill”, [Ruth starts to dole out pills. ] symbolically represents the idea that the patients lives and reality are shaped by medication. However, it is through Roy’s characterisation that explores the distinctive idea of illusion and reality to the utmost degree. Being institutionalised all his life, Roy has created an illusion of his own reality, “my mother played the music over and over again to me”, that is surrounded by optimism that don’t correspond with his reality, “I am for the stars Jerry” reinforcing the distinct idea of insanity.
Considered the climax of the play, the final scene in Act One is a distinctive pivoting point for many of the characters. In the opening moments of the scene, Lewis becomes directly involved in Cosi Fan Tutte as he takes on the role of Ferrando, emphasising the idea that Lewis has entered the patient’s world. The dramatic representation of the ideas and values of the outside world, Nick enters the asylum to assist Lewis direct the play. The “madness” and self-delusion obtained by Nick is represented through his flippancy tone, “as an actor he is awful, but I make him look good”.
Shocking the responders, Nick uses profanity and conflict to feel superior to the patients when his values are challenged by Henry. “I am not going to put up with this right wing crap”. The overtly theatrical device [A Beat] breaks the forth wall, reminding the responders to accept the protagonists as a cast within a theatre. The distinctive change in Lewis is explored as he develops an empathic tone as he forcefully prevents Henry from leaving the production, “hit me, it’s the only way I’m going to allow you to leave us”.
Lewis has undergone a process of personal growth through his interaction with the patients resulting in his ideas and values being reshaped. In Act Two, Nowra continues to explore conflict as primary dramatic device to develop the distinctive ideas of love and fidelity. Act Two Scene Two presents conflict between Lewis and Lucy originating from the play-within-a-play. Choosing the production over the moratorium as it is “about important things like love”, represents his movement from the values he held at the beginning.
However, the decision frustrates Lucy, [throwing the script on a chair]. Her insensitivity and lack of values are portrayed through Lucy’s line delivery, “I sleep with you but have sex with him”. Ironically, Lucy’s sexual betrayal mirrors the play by the lines recited by Lewis diverging him and the opera. “Woman’s constancy is like the Arabian phoenix, everyone swears it exists but no one has seen it”. Unlike Lewis, Lucy’s superficiality and ideas of the world prevent her from change and character growth.
The closing scenes of Cosi allow the audience to view the enriching and powerful nature of the dramatic medium. Nowra explores the distinctive idea that ‘serenity’ to an institutionalised individual is an unattainable reality. Establishing a triumphant tone, Justin’s line “Marvellous. Just Marvellous” represents the idea that Lewis has reached enlightenment through his experiences with the production and the inmates which have provided him with new insights and understandings of the world.
In contrast, the patients represent that although there may be a time of exaltation and kinship, there is not always growth. As Lewis breaks the “forth wall”, the future of the patients is revealed including death, overdose and lack of progression. Lewis’s monologue explores the distinctive idea that the production was a temporary catalyst for the patients. The [blackout] concludes the play signifying the cyclic structure as the distinctive ideas of “darkness” and “madness” are returned.
Nowra’s play, Cosi, layers tragedy and comedy as it explores distinctive ideas developing an effective dichotomy between “sanity” and “insanity”, alongside dramatic verisimilitude via the mayhem antics of the comic opera of Cosi Fan Tutte. The mental patients assist Lewis’ growth and development shaped by the idea’s of illusion verses reality and love and fidelity explored by the play-within-a-play. Dramatic devices assisted the responders to develop the enhancing and distinctive ideas explored and the powerful nature of the dramatic medium.
Courtney from Study Moose
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