At the beginning of Louis Nowra’s play, Cosi, protagonist Lewis Riley holds views that are consistent with society in 1970. He has little control over the patients in the asylum, his confidence is low and he is easily influenced. Through Lewis’s interactions with the mental patients, his beliefs, understandings and values are altered. This transformation can be described as admirable as Lewis now holds views that are distinctly different from the society that surrounds him.
In control of self
Through the play, Lewis’s motives for directing the Opera change. Initially, Lewis is directing the Opera because he ‘needs the money’ but his relationships and exposure to the patients allows Lewis to realise how important Cosi Fan Tutte is for their wellbeing. Lewis first comes to this realisation when the ‘experiment’ is deemed as ‘over’ by Justin. Cherry speaks up and claims that ‘it was me! Doug isn’t to blame. I dropped a ciggie down the toilet’. Lewis is asked to confirm this and noticing Cherry, Roy and Doug’s desire to continue, Lewis reinforces the lie. Another situation that shows us a change of purpose in Lewis is when his girlfriend, Lucy, arrives and questions him about attending the moratorium meeting. Lewis stays for rehearsals, claiming that ‘they need me’.
This response shows that Lewis no longer sees directing the play as a source of money, he now sees it as something that is important for the patients in the asylum, which can be defined as remarkable because although opposing forces suggested that a play on love and fidelity was unfit for the time period as love was considered unimportant and merely an ‘emotional indulgence for the privileged few’, Lewis went ahead and directed the play for the benefit of the neglected patients in the asylum, showing a developed strength in character.
Furthermore, Lewis also develops in his ability to deal with other people. In Act 1, Lewis is introduced to the mental patients and he appears very uncertain and unconfident. He easily lets Roy make the major decisions for Cosi Fan Tutte such as the choice of music, the type of play and the cast roles. Lewis’s inability to take control shows a weakness in Lewis; he is easily influenced by the people around him, including his university friends Nick and Lucy. As the narrative progresses, Lewis begins to gain some self-control and authority – he lets Zac make musical decisions, despite Roy’s complaints and he lets Cherry include electric shock therapy in the Opera, again, despite Roy’s judgements. Lewis’s change can also be observed when he stands up to Lucy and Nick. One example that depicts this is when Nick sings a mocking and offensive song about mental institutions while being in the same room as some of the patients.
Lewis responds with “I said, don’t sing that song” and he punches Nick, which is a contrasting response compared to Act 1, where when Nick sang the song, Lewis just simply told Nick off. Lewis is also able to disagree with Lucy on the topic of love and no longer feels the need to justify himself to her or Nick. One of the messages that Norwa is expressing in the play Cosi is that, generally, society does not know how to deal with people who are ‘mentally unwell’. Lewis challenges this popular view when he works with the patients and thus, he is able to handle them more effectively, as well as becoming more resilient along the way, demonstrating a transformation that is indeed extraordinary.
Idealistic and realistic
Additionally, Lewis’s time with the mental patients helped in form his identity. Through this experience, Lewis’s beliefs and understandings were challenged by the asylum patients. We see proof of this through the duration of the play. At the beginning of the play, Lewis felt that love was ‘not so important nowadays’ but when the patients explored their personal views on love through the production of Cosi Fan Tutte, Lewis’s original views were influenced by the conclusion of the play. This is apparent when unlike Nick and Lucy, Lewis is not interested in ‘free love’ and is hurt to realise that Nick and Lucy are having sex, showing his change from someone who thought that love was ‘unimportant’ to a man who values fidelity.
On top of this alteration, Lewis’s understanding of the mentally ill was ultimately challenged when we was able to interact with the patients. Formerly, Lewis held a stereotypical view of the patients, fearing that one of them might ‘forget to take their medication’ and go crazy but as he directs and performs alongside them in the Opera, he is able to appreciate them and realise that they share many similar traits to ordinary people and that they are not defined by their mental flaws, showing that Lewis no longer sees the patients as ‘crazy’ and deserving to separated from society. This step out from society in terms of beliefs makes Lewis a figure worthy of honour in the play Cosi.
In summary, the transformation that protagonist Lewis Riley undertakes is truly remarkable. He is able to separate himself from the negative thinking patterns of the anti-war society and communicate with mental patients effectively, understanding and accepting them. Furthermore, this journey allowed for Lewis’s personality to develop in terms of strength, values and knowledge, altogether, making him a character worthy of our praise.