Company hopes audiences will go crazy for 'Cosi'

Karla Hayward
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Deadpan Alley staging bold, thought-provoking production

A pyromaniac, an awkward former lawyer, a young junkie and an uptight and suicidal middle-aged woman.

Relax. It's not your family reunion. It's Deadpan Alley's newest stage production, "Cosi."

Originally written for the stage by Australian playwright Louis Nowra, "Cosi" is, according to some, semi-autobiographical.

It's the story of Louis, an amateur theatre director who is offered a job at a rehabilitation centre for mentally ill patients. He intends to direct the patients in some simple drama therapy, but ends up railroaded by one of the patients - Roy - who is obsessed with performing Mozart's libretto, "Cosi fan Tutte."

Cast members of Deadpan Alley rehearse a scene from the troupes newest stage production, Cosi. From left are, Crystal Thornhill, Jan Graham, Rhonda Pittman, and Don OKeefe. Cosi is on stage at Memorial Universitys Reid Theatre in the Arts and Administrati

A pyromaniac, an awkward former lawyer, a young junkie and an uptight and suicidal middle-aged woman.

Relax. It's not your family reunion. It's Deadpan Alley's newest stage production, "Cosi."

Originally written for the stage by Australian playwright Louis Nowra, "Cosi" is, according to some, semi-autobiographical.

It's the story of Louis, an amateur theatre director who is offered a job at a rehabilitation centre for mentally ill patients. He intends to direct the patients in some simple drama therapy, but ends up railroaded by one of the patients - Roy - who is obsessed with performing Mozart's libretto, "Cosi fan Tutte."

"But it's completely beyond their reach. None of them know the work. None of them speak Italian. None of them can even sing. And yet, this patient is determined to do it. And they end up doing it," says Deadpan Alley director Janet Graham.

Deadpan Alley bills itself as "the Goulds' first and only amateur theatre company."

It officially began just two years ago under Graham's direction.

"'Amateur' is somewhat inaccurate, too," Graham said.

"These guys may not be professionally trained, but they create an absolutely professional-grade show."

In recent months, Deadpan Alley has surprised audiences at every turn. The company has performed at practically every local theatre venue - except the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre - and blown audiences away with productions like "The Bird Cage," "The Full Monty" and "C.L.U.E."

Graham was first recommended the film version of "Cosi" by a friend.

"When I first heard what it was about, I found it kind of alarming and I didn't even want to see the film."

But, see it she did, and the ball began to roll.

"Cosi" is funny enough to be called a comedy, but is really quite dark.

"There are moments where you are shocked. This play has a powerful message, an important message, but you don't feel like you've been through a sermon or just got called into the principal's office. You walk out of there laughing. You're rooting for these patients," Graham said.

Joking about mental illness is no casual undertaking, so why is Graham taking the risk?

"It was actually given complete endorsement by the mental health associations in Australia," she said of the film version. "They hold it up there with 'Shine.' They use these two as two film examples to teach young people about mental illness and tolerance.

"The basic message is to encourage an audience to focus more on the potential of people who suffer with mental illness as opposed to seeing only their limitations. ... It's trying to engender more of a compassionate (reaction) and it's trying to make you think. And it works, actually."

Graham said "Cosi's" characters are clearly representative of different degrees of illness and of various disorders. "(But) for the sake of the stage, they are exaggerated in some situations - just to make it more engaging and more dynamic."

She describes the story as "An honest representation, but it really is far funnier than you might think. It's filled with moments of tremendous humour, moments of poignant sadness, moments of great fear. The tension is there from the beginning, whether it's comedic tension or real tension. It's brilliantly written, I have to say."

Deadpan Alley's "Cosi" is on stage at Memorial University's Reid Theatre in the Arts and Administration Building Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Curtain rises at 8 p.m.

Tickets are available at The Rooms gift shop, Bennington Gate, or by calling O'Keefe Flowers at 368-0909.

All three shows are in support of the Carl Morrissey Memorial Bursary, an award presented each year to a full-time student at the School of Music, based on financial need and demonstrated musical ability.

telyarts@yahoo.com

Organizations: Reid Theatre, Arts and Administration Building, The Rooms School of Music

Geographic location: St. John's, Bird Cage, Australia Bennington Gate

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