Play with music.
Loosely based on Nowra's own experience at producing a play (Trial by Jury) at Melbourne's Plenty Mental Home, Cosi has become a favourite with theatre companies and audiences alike since it premiered in 1992. Full of theatrical jokes and roles rich with Jonsonian humour, the play's use of a play rehearsal device also provokes images of the not-too dissimilar 'families' that come together in the professional theatre. Indeed, Nowra notes in the premiere season's programme notes that 'like the actual events of those days [the play] is, I hope, full of comedy and affection. Real madness and angst only occurred when I worked with professional actors'.
Set in 1971, Cosi takes an affectionate look at madness and mayhem in a world where institutions can be less limiting than ideology. The narrative is played out two locations, a mental institution and a suburban backyard. , Fresh from university, Lewis (a play on Louis) arrives to direct a play with the inmates, but is persuaded by Roy to stage his favourite opera, Cosi Fan Tutte. Lewis' problems don't end, however, with the fact that the other inmates are neither opera singers nor Italian-speakers. There is Ruth, troubled by the concept of a real illusion ; Zac, who insists on playing Wagner ; Doug, who is committed to the closed ward ; not to mention the sexual advances by Cherry and Julie. Lewis's world is no less complicated at home, where he has to contend with escaping pigs, exploding beer bottles and the pretensions of his politically correct friends.
The music incorporated into the narrative includes: 'Wild Thing' (by The Troggs), various songs from Cosi Fan Tutte, 'Purple Haze' (Jimmy Hendrix) 'Candy Says' (a Velvet Underground song, pre-recorded), and Wagner's 'The Ride Of The Valkyries'.
Loosely based on Louis Nowra's own experiences as a young theatre practitioner, Cosi follows protagonist Lewis, an unemployed actor who joins a government program to help rehabilitate mentally ill patients in a Sydney institution. Among the patients are psychopathic firebug Doug, pathologically shy Henry, lovesick Cherry, forlorn Ruth, recovering drug-addict Julie, and ever-demanding Roy. Hoping to realise his dream of staging a production of Mozart's Così Fan Tutte, Roy begins takes over the inexperienced Lewis's program, even though oblivious of the fact that none of the other patients can sing opera. As Lewis attempts to keep control of the inmates, his own life begins to spiral out of control. After being dumped by his girlfriend, Lewis finds himself drawn to Julie. He is also sacked by the hospital administrator. Having come so far with their production, however, he and the actors secretly rehearse at night. Errol, the head of nursing, tells his supervisor that the group is preparing a variety show to be performed for the health minister's forthcoming visit. On the night, they instead present their somewhat chaotic version of Cosi.
First produced by Company B at the Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, beginning 21 April 1992. The director was Adam Cook. The 1994 MTC production (Russell Street Theatre), directed by Nadia Tass, was presented with reduced production values, using a single set and with the domestic scenes either cut or relocated. Original director Adam Cook also revived the production in 2003 at the Optus Playhouse (QPAC, Brisbane) for La Boite Theatre.