Beneath the humor in Così is a brutal depiction of society’s treatment of the mentally ill.
Louis Nowra’s ‘Cosi’ is a play set in 1971 Melbourne that takes place within a mental asylum. It follows the efforts of young director Lewis Riley in directing the patients there in a performance of the Mozart opera ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’.
Despite the classification of the play as a comedy, beneath ‘Cosi’ is a representation of the brutal treatment experienced by the mentally ill at the hands of society. Nowra employs humor as a means of connecting with audiences and as a vessel to discus difficult issues in a way that is comfortable and accessible. Comedy is also incorporated as a means of characterization and of personalizing mental illness.
Comedy is a feature included by Nowra as a means of connecting and engaging audiences. Like Lewis, many of Nowra’s audience would have had little to no experience with the mentally ill and so would be rendered on the outside of the issues being discussed within the play. To address this, Nowra uses comedy, a universal tool, to relax the audience and render the play accessible and relevant. Colloquial language, slapstick and running jokes such as “Go burn a cat” combine to construct a language that allows audiences to be involved within the play and receive Nowra’s messages in a form that they can relate to. For example, when the topic of coffee on set arises, Ruth is left perplexed and obsessed with the notion. For audience members who don’t understand, this scene would be lost as it is simply too much to grasp. Instead, Nowra deliberately constructs it to be silly – “We’ll have to have a real cappuccino machine…Did they have instant coffee in Mozart’s day?” with Roy later snapping at her to “shut up”
Most audiences would be inexperienced in the field of mental illness and so comedy is a tool used by Nowra in order to get his messages across in a manner that is graspable by a wide variety of people.
Nowra uses comedy as vessel...