Cosi by Louis Nowra. Three Dice UCU Theatre Co, directed by Michele Lee and Jenni Sainsbury. University of Canberra Theatre8 pm May 18, 19, 25, 26, June 1, 2, 2001. Bookings 6201 5350.
One might compare Cosi with the other famous asylum play, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but what Nowra could do - and Ken Kesey couldn't - is write delicate light characters, edging on satire but leaving no doubt about the reality of their psychoses. Funny, but sad.
And sad it was at the end as each of the ill people parted from Lewis, who had succeeded in directing their play not by the rules of theatrical convention but by responding to their feelings, encouraging their sense of self-worth. At the same time the "well" people - Lewis' girlfriend and his best mate - were fighting ideological battles in the anti-Vietnam moratorium marches and betraying him, while the social worker maintained a spurious concern for the patients' welfare, always setting "them" well away from "us".
It took most of the first half on opening night for the actors to relax but by the end they had the feel of the roles and the rhythm of the play - ending the curtain call with an exuberant, superficially silly conga-line exit - yet just what this edgy satire needed. It seemed to me that the co-directors had probably been a bit too earnest about developing characterisation in the early scenes, but you can't keep a good play down, and Nowra is such a good writer that the script does the work.
Costume and props were excellent. I loved Henry's toy soldiers and model ship, Zac's Wagnerian anti-Mozart Viking helmet and all the women's specific elements of self-expression, from Julie's just-enough bare skin above her jeans to Cherry's short red number. Released from the wards for rehearsals, these were the marks of freedom. Doug, of course, had to escape D ward to reappear, with Cherry's knife wounds bloodily bandaged. And then came Roy's pipe at the end! In this little theatre every detail could be seen and made its theatrical point.
While not a professional quality production, Cosi is a good play done with energy and intelligence. Worth a visit.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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