La Boite Theatre Company
February 8 – March 8 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Happy is the man who calmly takes life as he finds it.
Cosi Fan Tutte
LA BOITE HAS ALLOCATED SEATING NOW. I KNOW.
On opening night of Louis Nowra’s classic comical iconic masterpiece Cosi, La Boite’s 2014 season opener, this was almost as big a deal as the show itself! I think it takes so long to get everybody in and out of The Roundhouse Theatre that any system requires patience and lots of smiles. (And look, when in doubt wear flats – teetering between steps in the aisles in the throng is tricky, even for the die-hard-hard-core-high-heel wearing patrons). Whether or not this decision applies to mainhouse productions only, or to all, remains to be seen. I have to say I’ll miss General Seating. It was one of the quirks that have always set La Boite’s Roundhouse apart. RIP General Seating at The Roundhouse.
This Cosi is La Boite’s third and as Director and Artistic Director of the company, David Berthold, noted after the show, the play is without doubt a part of La Boite’s DNA. To revisit it was always going to be a ballsy move, and to compare this one to previous productions would be unfair. Directed by Berthold and starring super talented director, Benjamin Schostakowski (his production, A Tribute of Sorts, transfers to QTC’s mainstage this year after its 2012 La Boite debut) as the fresh-outta-uni director, Lewis. The company’s publicity wisely focused largely on two other cast members – Jessica Marais (Lucy and Julie) and James Stewart (Henry), better known for their roles in Packed to the Rafters (and, incidentally, can you think of a better voice for a QANTAS plane in Disney’s new animated film, Planes? Marais is ideal!). Although the general perception on opening night seemed to be that he gets away with it, Schostakowski is miscast and as such, misses many opportunities, including delivering Lewis’s final speech about what becomes of the people who have changed his life without pause, pathos or conviction. Perhaps he’ll find a whole gamut of emotion by the end of the season. His final line, and the final line of the play, “Time to turn off the lights”, should have made me blink with tears but, like Morales, I felt nothing. Is it just me? It often is.
A brilliantly constructed comedy, the sequel to Nowra’s previous semi-autobiographical piece, Summer of the Aliens, Cosi bursts with love, sincerity and a little bit of tragedy. The most obvious little bit of tragedy of all of course is that, as ludicrous as it seems, we recognise the situation, and wish we could offer similar creative opportunities to all our mentally challenged, to engage, nurture, and nourish through the arts. Well, we can; we can support the community groups and companies who are actually doing the work, including Back to Back and Milk Crate Theatre, as well as incredible ventures such as Rob Pensalfini’s Shakespeare Prison Project. (Sam will argue that last one but I believe people are people before AND after they commit a crime).
ANYWAY, Cosi is pretty funny, and certainly, Aaron Davison (Doug) and Amy Ingram (Cherry), via their different approaches, milk for all its worth, their lovely little (and loud!) collections of one-liners. Davison is a straight-up Doug and Ingram is brash and sweetly (frighteningly) pathetic in her attentiveness of Lewis and ambition to become a famous actress. Anthony Standish (Nick, Justin & Zac), rewarded across three roles with raucous laughter from the opening night audience, proves that each part is worth overplaying. But it’s Trevor Stuart and Jennifer Flowers who get my attention and fade slowly from memory this time…and every time I see them. Stuart’s manic depressive character, Roy, is the driving energy of the show, as he should be, and in winning our sympathy and hilarity, Stuart succeeds at every turn. As obsessive compulsive Ruth, Flowers is simply beautiful. In equal measures she brings to her character fragility, vulnerability and sheer, stubborn determination to put in a perfect performance.
And what of the performance? For an audience of catatonics from a Melbourne mental institution, a full production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, about the infidelity of women, of which we see an extended lip synch of the final scene; it’s long – too long – but it offers us the most glorious moment of the entire production, when Marais turns her radiant face upwards (she is just stunning to see on stage) into the light and falling confetti, and responds with a true Julie smile. The moment is absolute perfection, and I’m not even girl crushing, just saying.
Also, just saying, lose the dreadful wigs on Nick and Lucy? Please? No? Ok.
You’ll probably love this production more than I did. You’ll probably laugh more and you’ll probably see other perfect moments that I missed. We said goodbye for the fifth and final time to Sam’s mum the same day (a long story, and a whole lotta pain), and I was grateful for the fun and relief of laughing out loud with my sister at the theatre. Theatre as therapy. Indeed.
Hugh O’Connor’s design – a stage within a stage for the play within the play – is wonderfully ruined, to the extent that we wonder at first, until we see the watermark on the floor, if the drops of water are supposed to be dripping from the ceiling, and Ben Hughes’ lighting could be said to be truly compassionate, working in tandem with sound design by Samuel Boyd, so that we actually get beautifully choreographed transitions between scenes. It’s becoming a trend this year. Didn’t you get the memo?
Do go see this Cosi. It’s fun and bright and very light, and you will laugh out loud. Enjoy it and its simple joys, until March 8.