'Spanning five decades from 1962 to 2017, The Lewis Trilogy follows Louis Nowra's occasional hero, sometime narrator and perennial misfit, Lewis, as he struggles to find and understand his place in the changing world around him. In Summer of the Aliens, Lewis is a young man on the cusp of adulthood, growing up in a Melbourne housing commission. Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis, the play is a coming of age story about sex and family, alien invasions, and suburban tragedies played out behind closed doors. In Cosa?, Lewis is fresh out of university and directing Mozart's Cosa? fan tutte with the inmates of a mental institution. As anti Vietnam protests take place in the streets outside, Lewis finds himself stepping off the sidelines to become emotionally involved with his actors' lives. In This Much is True, Lewis is a writer 'between divorces' and temporarily adrift among the outsiders and dropouts of an inner city Sydney pub. Older, and possibly wiser, Lewis is once more drawn into a world of colourful characters, all of them searching for magic in the mundane. Lewis' constant search for connection plays out against the evolving hopes and battles of Australian society -' just like us, only more extraordinary.' (Publication summary)
All three plays were given in a single season in 2024 by Griffin Theatre Company (see individual plays for details).
'It is 1962 and the world is worried about the Cuban missile crisis, except for Lewis, a youth on the cusp of manhood, growing up in a Melbourne housing commission suburb. He is preoccupied by flying saucer, much to the disgust of his friend Brian who can think only of losing his virginity. Lewis finds a natural soulmate in local tom-boy, Dulcie, who has her own confusions about approaching womanhood. And then out of nowhere Lewis's errant father returns to stay, as if he had never gone' (Currency Press).
Although the play largely focuses on adolescent issues, it is meant for an adult audience. Among the themes explored are sexuality, gender, prejudice, cultural identity and the relationship between memory and personal identity.
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'.
'A debt collector, a drag queen, a rogue chemist and a manic depressive walk into a pub…
'THIS MUCH IS TRUE continues the story of Lewis from Summer of the Aliens and Cosi. Now he’s older, a writer and lives in an inner city suburb filled with public housing, the underclass and characters who could only exist in such a place.
'He attends the 150 year old hotel, The Rising Sun, where he mixes with a core of customers, including an ice chemist, a once famous drag queen, a violent debt collector, a con man, a manic depressive and a fixer.
'These stories are true.' (Production summary)