The play ‘Cosi’, written by Louis Nowra, is set in 1971 amidst the chaos of the Vietnam War. Australia’s involvement in the war was a topic of great controversy, and being the first televised war, reality was brought crashing into the lounge rooms of Australians. The horrific images displayed in people’s homes sparked anger from those involved in the fight against communism and conscription. The loyalty of Australians was heavily tested during these times, with society divided in their support of anti-communism. Nowra exposes the audience to the harsh treatment of those living in mental institutions during these times; a result of society’s’ predisposition to neglect those labelled ‘insane’ in the 70’s.
Through the play he encourages the audience to ignore these perceptions and recognise the mentally ill as equals instead of undermining them. Furthermore, Nowra highlights society’s conflicting attitudes towards love and fidelity. When compared to the barbarism of the war, faithfulness was often viewed as irrelevant. However contending this idea, Nowra expresses the need for loyalty and taking care of one another, even when confronted with seemingly more ‘important’ matters. Through the journey of the protagonist of the play, Lewis, the audience learns that even in the face of deep betrayal, loyalty can be found. Although Lewis initially explains that he is directing the play due to his lack of money, it is evident that Cosi Fan Tutte becomes more than just a quick way to earn cash.
In the beginning of Cosi, Lewis expresses his reason for directing the play by stating “I need the money, Lucy.” He is confronted and uncomfortable when first meeting the patients under such foreign circumstances, overwhelmed by the idea of having to deal with these “mad” people. Nowra embodies society’s negative attitude towards those with mental illnesses, where anyone classed as ‘insane’ were removed from society and thrust into the confinement of institutions. Instead of dealing with these people in a humane fashion, it was accepted that ECT treatment, drugs and surgery prevented them from creating a hassle.
Lewis’s doubt and concerns about working with the patients are encouraged when he can’t convince them to perform ‘The Exception and the Rule.’ Instead, the antagonist of the play Roy, is determined to perform ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’, a Mozart play about fidelity and love. Lewis is not keen on the play and what it represents, his view on love evident when he states “Love is not so important nowadays.” Through Lewis, Nowra highlights the similar opinions of so many people during these times.
In the face of war and politics, with horrific televised images thrust into people’s homes, fidelity was rated an irrelevant concept. This was the view held by Lewis and even more so his girlfriend Lucy, who states “After bread….comes maybe love.” However the audience soon experiences a change in Lewis’s mindset towards not only the patients, but the importance of love and loyalty. He finds himself relating to the patients more and more, building relationships and accepting their quirks and issues.
When Lewis’s close friend Nick confronts over his absence at the moratorium, stating “You said you were going to help out”, Lewis explains that Cosi Fan Tutte is more important, “This comes first.” It is clear that Nick does not support Lewis in the play or share his view of the patients “Only mad people…..funny farm.” Again, Nick’s comment only further exposes Lewis’s opinion, when he replies with “Nick, they’ll hear you.” Lewis’s comments exemplify his unwavering loyalty towards the patients and likewise, Nowra promotes the audience to recognise the importance of loyalty and support.
Lewis’s changed perception of love is shown when he contends Lucy, telling her the Cosi Fan Tutte is “about important things, like love and fidelity.” This proves his changed attitude towards love, which he originally placed little value on. Nowra influences the audience to be open to the idea of fidelity and see the values within it. He contends society’s views in the 70’s and encourages the audience not to neglect and degrade the mentally ill, but see and treat them as equals.
In the face of betrayal, Lewis experiences unswerving loyalty from a conservative Henry. Henry, a depressed and quiet man, is seemingly reserved. However it is clear when he learns that Nick gives money to North Vietnam for supplies, that Henry is strongly opinionated and willing to stand for his beliefs, “My ffffather fought…..you are traitors.” Henry’s loyalty to his father, who was a soldier, is deep seated and deeply held. His attack against Nick and Lewis proves that despite being ‘crazy’, he has the ability to stand up for what matters to him. Nowra demonstrates that everyone deserves the right to stand for their values.
Henry’s loyalty is again demonstrated when Lewis learns that his girlfriend Lucy is sleeping with Nick. Lucy explains “I have sex with him and sleep with you,” highlighting her belief in ‘free love.’ On the contrary it is clear that, Lewis wants Lucy to be faithful, “It’s over. I’m shifting out of the house.” When Lewis confronts Nick over the matter, he repeats Lucy’s explanation “No, she’s sleeping…..having sex.” It is here that Henry shows his support and loyalty to Lewis, offering to beat up Nick, “Do you want me……stand up?” Henry’s display of loyalty highlights the relationship he has formed with Lewis. Nowra exhibits that we should not take advantage of our relationships with others, and value the loyalty and commitment that they offer us.
Also, one can hold strong political values whilst also displaying empathy and loyalty. Despite Roy constantly undermining and insulting Lewis, when he suffers from stage fright Lewis provides him with encouragement and reassurance. Roy is extremely passionate about the performance of ‘Cosi Fan Tutte,’ displaying enthusiasm from the beginning when he alerts the cast to his plans, “I’ve already chosen what we’re doing. ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’.” Despite complaints about his choice and the difficulties it will create, Roy is utterly undeterred by any issue the Italian opera presents. His desire for the play to be performed the way he imagines it results in constant attacks regarding Lewis’s direction, “Couldn’t direct a nymphomaniac to a stag night.”
Despite Roy’s passion, when it comes to the final performance he struggles with stage fright, telling Lewis “I can’t do it.” Putting aside the abuse and insults from Roy, Lewis only offers him encouragement and support, replying with “Yes, you can,” and, “I’ll whisper the lines to you.” Lewis understands how much the play means to Roy, and furthermore, it is clear that Lewis wants Roy to have the opportunity to succeed in his performance, “I want you to be noticed all the time.”
Nowra suggest the idea that not only Roy needs to be noticed, but all those who have been locked away from society. That the mentally ill should no longer be ignored, but seen as equals with the rest of the world. Through evidence of the loyalty Lewis develops towards the patients, Nowra demonstrates that despite whether somebody is classed as ‘insane’ or not, strong relationships and trust can be built. Overall, Cosi demonstrates in numerous situations that whilst facing betrayal, one can also experience true loyalty and friendship. This is evident through Lewis’s support of Roy, and when Henry stands up for Lewis.
Furthermore, Nowra highlights the cruel and degrading treatment towards mentally ill people during the 70’s, and promotes the audience to reconsider these views. Through Lewis’s acceptance of the patients and the relationships he builds with them, he influences us to alter our negative perceptions. Additionally, Nowra promotes the idea of fidelity and trust. Despite the reality of the televised war leading people to hold more ‘important’ values, Nowra encourages not to forget the importance of loyalty and love. On the whole, Cosi portrays what Nowra depicts to be important values; loyalty, trust, acceptance and empathy.
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