What happens when a young university graduate tries to direct a Mozart opera in a mental health facility?
Find out in Louis Nowra's quasi-autobiographical comedy Cosi. Canberra Repertory Society's production of the 1992 Australian play opens soon at Theatre 3. It will be Rep's second production in 2021.
Cosi is set in Melbourne in 1971, it's a turbulent time socially and politically and Lewis (played by Martin Hoggart Fatmaja) is trying to find his place and purpose.
He takes on the job of directing a play at a mental health facility.
But his plans for a modest undertaking are derailed by one of the patients, Roy (Chris Baldock), who wants to stage a full production of Cosi fan tutte.
Further complicating matters are the (often minimal) talents of, and various challenges faced by, those involved.
Hoggart Fatmaja, 24, said he could identify with Lewis in some ways: both actor and character graduated from the University of Melbourne and lived in the suburb of Northcote.
He said Lewis "starts off as a radical Marxist".
Through his experiences, Lewis's attitudes become more nuanced as he learns more about people and life.
Although many of the characters are dealing with conditions ranging from schizophrenia to pyromania to bipolar disorder, the play, Hoggart Fatmaja said, "is not making fun of the people - but it still has this great comic energy.
"It's great fun."
Cosi marksSophie Benassi's first time directing at Rep. It's also her first gig since she graduated from the directing program at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts.
She is also a special needs teacher and co-artistic director of Mockingbird Theatre
Benassi said Rep's brief to her included choosing an Australian classic with not too large a cast that could be produced on a moderate budget.
She selected Cosi because, "I've always loved the play and in particular I love what it has to say about mental health".
She said one of the main themes of the play is "what people do to survive their own reality. It's about illusion versus reality - wonderfully challenging".
It remained relevant and relatable, she said, in part because of the stigma that still remains about mental health, although that was improving.
"There are more words and more dialogue around it."
She said that Lewis, in addition to his directorial challenges, had to deal with a girlfriend, Lucy (Emily Pogson) who is drawn to his highly opinionated friend Nick (Alex Castello).
Benassi said her approach as director began with "research and dramaturgical work on a script, breaking it down act by act and working out the problems of scenes ... I do believe all the answers are in the script".
Working collaboratively with the actors was also important, she said, encouraging them to do their own research and come up with their own ideas for their characters.
- Cosi is on at Theatre 3 from April 8 (preview) to April 24. For more information go to canberrarep.org.au.
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