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In Cosi, Nowra is telling us that we all need to go ‘insane’ at times to succeed

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In Cosi, Nowra is telling us that we all need to go ‘insane’ at times to succeed by Daphane Ng

While ‘Cosi’ demonstrates to the audience that stepping out of their comfort zone has profound potential to positively influence our lives, it also illustrates that these changes in our lives may not last for the long run. Louis Nowra challenges us to refute the human instinct to stay in our familiar environments, and portrays the dramatic transformation if we choose to conquer the unknown as exemplified in shy university student, Lewis. Lewis enters another world when he agrees to direct an ambitious play, ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ with the mentally ill. The idea of putting on a play so sophisticated and complex is ludicrous. Lewis reluctantly accepts this ‘insane’ challenge but manages to learn more about the outside world and himself.

Assigning a group of mentally ill patients under the care of an inexperienced university student is foolish. This crazy situation that Nowra presents Lewis in, demonstrates to his audience that adventuring into unknown grounds can work in favour of the individual. The burnt-out theatre incites a sense of hopelessness that suggests to Nowra’s audience that Lewis’ decision to direct a play is as crazy as the patients themselves. This creates an expectation that Lewis’ play is doomed for failure. Lewis’ physical crossing from the ‘normal’ world into another is symbolized with his entry into the theatre, brining in a “chink of daylight” into the “pitch black” auditorium. His arrival brings hope to these patients, and marks the beginning of a new journey for Lewis. Lewis describes Roy’s decision to perform ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ as “madness” due to the complexities of the bourgeois opera buffer. “Working with these people [has] changed” Lewis from a shy university student to a confident individual with a new understanding of the world. The chaos of darkness in the theatre liberates Lewis when he kisses Julie. This embarks Lewis’ full immersion into the world of mental institutions.

If it weren’t for Lewis’ risky decision of accepting to direct the play with the mentally ill, he wouldn’t have surpassed the stereotype of “loony” people, and that mental illness is a black and white issue. Proposing the idea that “madness” is not a simple psychological diagnosis, Nowra prompts his audience that it’s a matter of human perception and judgement. Nowra values perceiving the mentally ill as people, rather than judging them from their ‘crazy’ reputation. Roy’s idolization of Mozart as the “genius” behind ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ whilst detesting the librettist, Da Ponte parallels to Nowra’s message that people only care about the big picture in life, the stereotype mental patients. Roy believes that “opera’s music exists so that no one will have to pay attention to the words” is equidistant to establishment of mental institutes in the 1970s’ to lock up individuals who pose a threat to society. Nowra advocates in ‘Cosi’ that mental asylums shouldn’t be exercised as a covert solution for social control, but as a place where each individual is carefully assessed and cared for. Though Lewis has no past experience working with mentally ill individuals, he successfully eradicates his stereotypical attitude of diagnosing and labelling individuals.

‘Cosi’ demonstrates that people who are willing to take risks and venture out into the unknown, are people who achieve success. However, the success experienced amongst some mental patients is short lived when they’re grounded back to reality. For Lewis to fully understand the lives of the mental patients, it is part of his journey to accept that there was no ‘fairytale ending,’ and that mental illness can’t be cured over a short duration. It is revealed when Lewis’ breaks the fourth wall in the auditorium that many of the mental patients do not recover from their illness. Ruth “left the institution to become a time and motion expert,” remind us that her experience has been a rewarding one. Contrary, Henry’s progress of overcoming his stuttering incoherence is short-lived and Julie “died of an overdose.” Nowra insinuates that one night of successful theatre entertainment is not an immediate antidote to mental illness. Despite the mental patients “blossom(ing)” after their performance, the deaths of Henry and Julie is a reminder to the audience that the success of the operatic experience for some characters is not guaranteed.

Lewis is awakened to a life outside of student politics when he journeys beyond the boundaries of the ‘normal’ world, and into the antithesis, ‘abnormal’ world of mental institutions. Nowra conveys a message to his audience to take risks in order to achieve success as exemplified with Lewis’ decision to direct a play with “mad” people. Though Lewis’ decision was greatly influenced with the motive of “quick cash,” this experience was the “best education” anyone could offer to learn about people with mental illnesses. Lewis emerges from his shell as a director, and develops a repertoire of strategies to conquer the difficulties of some patients. He also learns about the complexities of the illnesses the patients are plagued with, and the realistic nature of their conditions. Lewis’ experience has made him develop a worldly outlook of the world; therefore his ‘insane’ adventure has positively influenced his life.

Mark: Medium High

Good riddance VCE is over! My name is Daphane Ng, and I finished VCE in 2011! I studied English, Japanese SL, Psychology, Chemistry (yuk!), Biology and Methods. I'm hoping to do a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne and later do a DipEd to become a science teacher in the future. I hope my resources help you achieve the ATAR you deserve. Best of luck!

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