Cosi - Reviewed by Graeme McCoubrie
Cosi is a hilarious and touching piece of classic Australian theatre from one of its most prolific and creative playwrights, Louis Nowra. It has become a staple for community arts centres and like any well-known play invites comparison with other versions. Wyndham Theatre is the new name of the 40-plus-year-old Werribee Theatre Company, who in January 2013 changed to better suit the community they represent within the City of Wyndham. This was their first production for 2013, run under the directorship of Alaine Beek in the Crossroads Church Hall. With the flat floor and raised stage, viewing the work had its moments, while there was some daylight proliferation that detracted from the stage lighting. The set design, construction and painting by Alan Thompson and Kaylee Thompson was functional and the actors used the stage and set well. Andrea Pearson led the team in assembling the many hand props that suited the period of the play. Paul Morgan researched and provided just the right mix of costumes that enhanced the performance. Set in a psychiatric hospital it revolves around Lewis, a young university graduate played by Lee Cook. Being employed to direct some of the patients in a play, he finds it isn’t that easy as one of the more persuasive patients has decided that the group will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, a three-hour-long comic opera which was first performed in 1790. As none of the cast can speak Italian or even sing opera the task is fraught with difficulty. Lewis is not a very good director (“He couldn’t direct a nymphomaniac to a stag night”) and his task is made even more difficult with personal pressures being placed upon him by his housemate and girlfriend, who are heavily involved in the anti-war effort and the organisation of the Moratorium to end the war in Vietnam. These personal conflicts co-existed with the unravelling stories of the patients Lewis befriended, bringing real human concerns and not just caricatures of insanity. After an audition process Lewis has his cast: Roy, played by David Crothers, a manic with a thirst for stage exposure; Julie, played by Nicole Gray, a recovering drug addict; Ruth, played by Katherine O’Connor, a painfully shy woman with suicidal tendencies; Cherry, played by Susan Malthouse, an aggressive and potentially-violent woman; and Henry, played by Ron Fenton, a failed lawyer. David Crothers stood out as Roy, the most eager and sardonic of this wayward troupe, who continually cajoled the disparate group into performing Così fan Tutte.To his despair and our amusement, he finds they can’t act and, while continually criticising Lewis’s attempt to direct, mayhem ensues. An impressive performance by Susan Malthouse as Cherry, a feisty buxom blond who lavished attention on Lewis and brought pain to any misbehaving patients. She was terrific playing this rambunctious character, especially in the final moments when the group put on their play. Doug played by Ben O’Connor was strong and convincing as the pyromaniac cat burner, always ready in his desire to set things alight while bringing to us his philosophical stance on free love. Lewis’s role largely held the play together and he did well to do this as he reacted to characters such as stuttering Henry who moved between silence, aggression and pride, and his girlfriend Lucy, played by Donna Prince, who, while only a minor role, brought another dimension to Lewis’s character. David Prince as Zac, Lara Szuhan as Justine and Warrick Smith as Nick all gave great support in bringing the play within a play to its ultimate performance. Many comic lines were delivered, mostly with good timing in a very even performance by all under Alaine Beek’s directorship. The technical team led by production manager Alan Thompson would have been pleased to see so many smiling faces at the end of the performance. Così has enough dimension to handle numerous adaptations and still offer the audience a rewarding and entertaining experience.