Così by Louis Nowra, directed by Jane Carnwath: April 13 – 28, 2012
Louis Nowra (born Mark Doyle) is a celebrated Australian writer across many genres – stage plays, novels, non-fiction, screenplays, etc. In North America, he is probably best-known for his 1992 hit play Così, which he adapted for the screen in 1996.
The protagonist of Nowra’s admittedly “partly autobiographical” Così is Lewis, a very new university graduate who is hired to work with the inmates of a Melbourne insane asylum in 1971. Railroaded by manic depressive Roy, Lewis is persuaded to direct the patients in a production of Mozart’s comic opera Così Fan Tutte, despite the fact that none of them can sing or speak Italian. Meanwhile, Lewis’ politically-active friends are organizing a moratorium march against the Vietnam War, and don’t understand his growing connection to the Così project.
Director Jane Carnwath comments that “The lunatic project of mounting a production of Mozart’s opera Così Fan Tutte in the middle of the Vietnam war is the impetus for slapstick farce, satire, violence (both physical and verbal), and wisdom from surprising sources. Nowra’s Così celebrates, against staggering odds, the triumph of the imagination.” To ensure authenticity in the portrayals of the patients (most of whom would not be institutionalized today), Carnwath and assistant director Seema Lakhani consulted with experts at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.
Ed Rosing designed both set and lighting. The set is a burnt-out derelict theatre on Alumnae’s stage, with charred remainders (furniture, columns, etc.) of past glories. Genuine Australian graffiti from the 1970’s is scrawled on the walls. Initially the lighting is cold, bleak and dull, gradually warming until the opera performance is very saturated with colour.
Sound Designer Rick Jones has infused the music from the Mozart opera Così Fan Tutte into the play, so that when the character Roy says the opera is “all in my head” we actually hear it. Period music from the late 1960’s remains outside the asylum walls, leaving the patients cut off from the events shaping the world.
Costume designer Margaret Spence garbs the cast in early 1970’s fashion for everyday, but the patients’ fantastical 18th century Così Fan Tutte opera costumes (intended to look home-made in the institution’s Occupational Therapy classes) include hula-hoop skirts and toilet paper-roll wigs.
Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Così features Jamieson Child as neophyte director Lewis; Ryan Kotack and Joanne Sarazen as his politically-minded room-mates Nick and Lucy; Sean Speake as Justin the social worker; and Matt Brioux, Patricia Hammond, Christopher Kelk, Tina McCulloch, Laura Vincent, Michael Vitorovich, and James Warner as the asylum inmates.