As of last night, we’re five rehearsals in – the show opens April 13. Director Jane Carnwath is encouraging all the actors to “find their demons” – especially those of us playing the mental patients! We need to figure out stuff like what was our family life like, how did we come to be committed to the mental asylum, what are we struggling with, etc. She and assistant director Seema Lakhani visited CAMH (Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) last week, getting a tour of the facility formerly known as Queen Street Mental Hospital, and checking with staff that the characters in Louis Nowra’s play are realistic. Among other things, they learned that these days, it’s more usual to be an outpatient; residential facilities are becoming rarer. Così is set in 1971 when this was quite commonplace.
So who are these people? Justin (Sean Speake) is the social worker who comes up with the idea to get the inmates involved with theatre to “bring them out of their shells”. Henry (played by Christopher Kelk) is a former lawyer who fakes a paralyzed arm, and is mostly silent, stuttering when he attempts to speak. Cherry (PJ Hammond) is a bossy sociopath constantly trying to feed up the “too skinny” neophyte director Lewis (Jamieson Child), who’s way out of his depth attempting to keep order among the crazies. Doug (Matt Brioux) is an unrepentant pyromaniac with an overbearing mother – the revenge he took on her, via her five cats, is a story that makes our animal-loving stage manager Margot Devlin cringe and plug her ears! I play Ruth, an obsessive-compulsive with a determination to be perfect in everything. Laura Vincent plays Julie, a heroin-addicted former hairdresser who spends a lot of time observing quietly, a bit separated from it all. James Warner is drug-addled Zac, “the orchestra” for the opera that manic self-appointed leader Roy (Mike Vitorovich) is determined they will perform. Nick (Ryan Kotack) and Lucy (Joanne Sarazen) are Lewis’ roommates: Lucy is his girlfriend and Nick is his best friend. They’re both politically active – it’s 1971, so think Vietnam War protests – and can’t understand Lewis’ commitment to this frivolous project with “mad actors”.
Notice anything odd? With the possible exceptions of Doug and Cherry, the diagnoses of the patients don’t seem to warrant institutionalization – certainly not by today’s standards.
Some stuff from last night’s rehearsal:
MIKE to director JANE CARNWATH re: his opening moment: Is my spotlight just in my head?
JANE: No, it’s very real.
As Ruth auditioning for the opera, I sing a bit from The Troggs’ 1966 hit “Wild Thing”. Did you know the song was written by actor Jon Voight’s brother? That makes him Angelina Jolie’s uncle! Yep, songwriter Chip Taylor’s real name is James Voight.
Lewis (JAMIESON CHILD) has a line “I don’t think this is going to work, Roy.”
JANE directed him to play it with the intention of: I have to put a stop to this situation [Roy insisting that the patients will perform Mozart’s comic opera Così Fan Tutte] with as little blood on the floor as possible!
MIKE (as Roy, in an unscripted aside to the other patients): My name comes from “king”, y’know. Just sayin’.
At the end of rehearsal, Jane suggested that we patients try a little exercise next time: be 8 years old. Ah, that sense of entitlement, and the world revolving around you…