Bernie pic

Bernie pic

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Actors don the cloak of madness

Beenleigh Theatre Group presents Cosi, a play by Louis Nowra
Review by Bernie Dowling

THE comedy Cosi is a very funny play and in the capable hands of the 
ensemble company of Beenleigh Theatre Group, the humour abounded at Saturday’s matinee to satisfy a vocally appreciative audience.
It is 23 years since I saw Cosi at La Boite Theatre in Brisbane but the Beenleigh performance reminded me how uneasy I was about some aspects of the play. But more on that later.
Let’s concentrate on the laughs.

Cosi, a semi-autobiography by Australian playwright Louis Nowra, is set in 1971. Uni students, trade unionists, clerics, the political left, and just plain concerned citizens, are protesting at moratoriums against the Vietnam War.
Lewis (Aaron Dora) is a young man just out of uni and he takes a job directing mental patients in a play as therapy devised by a social worker Justin (Matt Steenson).
Now you would imagine, even as far back as 1992, Nowra would think carefully about constructing a comedy based around mental illness.
He succeeds by giving each inmate a degree of likeability and dignity while making their dire illness light-hearted with exaggerated stereotypes.

Bipolar, or in those days manic depressive, Roy (Brent Schon) wants Lewis to direct the Mozart Italian opera Così fan tutte.
The cast will include drug addict Julie (Jermia Turner), provocative pyromaniac Doug (Bradley Chapman), orally fixated and dangerous Cherry (Elodie Boal), the morbidly shy Henry who appears to be a stroke victim (Benjamin Bray), Ruth, living with obsessive compulsive disorder (Rachel Hunt), and self-medicating sometime pianist Zac (Andrew Alley).
No one can speak Italian nor sing.
What could possibly go wrong?
The life of the affable Lewis is further complicated by the demands of his politically radical housemates Lucy (Skyah Fishpool) and Nick (Dudley Powell)
Each actor gets under the skin of their character and much of the humour is from the earnestness of their endeavours to realize their obsessions.
The first act is probably funnier than the second when Nowra introduces much pop psychology
That said, the finale is both hilarious and moving.
Director Timothy Wynn puts all the light, shade and even darkness together on a stage where something was happening on every corner.

And now I return to the problems.
I saw the 1994 La Boite production with a friend who was a hospital orderly and he thought the depictions of people with mental illness were problematic. For my part, I thought the politics of the play were sus, remembering it was written 20 years after the events it portrayed.
I was not even sure why the Vietnam War protests were woven into the fabric of the play. One possible explanation that you change the world by improving interpersonal relations not through street protests seems trite.
Likewise what was the point of the blokey sexist and homophobic jests which seemed to be excusable because they were spoken by the mentally ill?

Cosi continues at Crete Street Theatre Beenleigh Fridays 7:30 pm, Saturdays 2:00 pm & 7:30pm until May 6. Book at

Here is our song. Some of my regular readers will have guessed, partially at least, 

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