Mental illnesses were seen by society as a negative form of difference and so mental illness patients have continuously been stereotyped and marginalised by society throughout there lives. The mistreatment of mental illness patients has been displayed throughout the play Cosi. The mental characters from the play create a theme of madness through there different personalities and quirks. The theme; mental illness and madness are developed for the audience by Louis Nowra’s choice of stage directions, dialogue, conflicts and symbolism.
From the opening of the first scene evidence of stereotyping and mistreatment of mental illness patients is shown. A contrast of dark and light is created from the stage direction at the opening of scene one, “It is day outside but pitch black inside the theatre.” This dark verse light theme is introduced and developed throughout the first scene. At a more figurative level, this contrast can be perceived to represent the insanity within the asylum and the sanity outside. A stereotypical view of the asylum as being filled with mad people is created.
Mistreatment of the mental illness patients can be seen from Justin’s quote “Coat of paint and it’ll be fine” and the stage direction that describe the theatre ‘burnt out’ and ‘pitch black’. These quotes emphasize how minimal effort and care goes into helping the patients. The lights symbolise Lewis’s entrance into a new world with Lucy and Nick, a world of madness and insanity with the mental patients. This stage direction and dialogue tells the audience about how minimal the patients care about there facilities which can symbolise their lives inside the asylum.
The burnt out theatre is an extended metaphor for everything, including the patients’ lives, being broken. From Nicks quote, “smells like it hasn’t been used in years,” a visual image of an old, abandoned theatre is created and the audience is lead to believe that theatrical practices are not a part of the patients lives anymore. The darkness inside could represent the patients dark pasts, while the stage direction “a chink of daylight enters” could be a symbol of future hope for the patients.
In the first scene, Louis Nowra challenges the audience about their stereotypical and judgmental thoughts on people with mental illness, by using the characters, Nick and Lucy, to confront their thoughts, stereotyping is shown through dialogue when Lucy and Nick say “I can’t believe you’re going to do a show here.” “Mad actors are bad enough, but madmen…” these quotes emphasize to the audience that mental asylums are dark, scary places and that the people inside are bad, crazy people.
Many of the characters are painfully direct and abrupt in there dialogue. This is a reflection on there personalities and values. For example Doug’s line “Poofter?” to Lewis. Doug is oblivious to his own sexual hang-ups. Lewis’ nervousness is revealed in the no response to Doug. The dialogue in the opening scene shows conflict, chaos and madness with Roy saying to Doug “Shut up, or ill knock you block off” this displays the mental and madness side of Roy and Doug showing the patients can’t control there temper when it comes to disagreements, this allows the audience to create beliefs that mental illness patients are psycho, uncontrollable people.
The quote “you must feel a bit queasy. I know I was when I first came to work in an asylum. The thing is and you’ll discover this, is that they are just normal people, well not quite normal, or else they wouldn’t be in here, would they? But you get my drift?” spoken from Justin to Lewis not only represents how Justin has transformed with his views on the patients but it also reflects upon Lewis’s uncomfortable and uneasy mood about working in the asylum with the patients. Justin speaking like that to Lewis shows the mistreatment to the patients and excluding them as ‘different people’ to any ‘normal person’ outside the asylum. Justin also stereotypes mental patients by telling Lewis “you are getting a good bunch. They’ll be no real trouble: no carving knife against the throat.” This is stereotyping patients and giving the audience a feel that most mental patients are crazy psycho killers.
Nowra uses a structure of a play within in a play to create and show madness and chaos as a symbol to the characters being mental patients. This structure allows the issues and concerns of the play to be reflected and commented upon in the other play as both plays are juxtaposed. Nowra’s structure maintains the crazy, madness and uncontrollable feel towards Lewis and Nick directing the inmates. This structure creates a crazy, unorganised atmosphere which reflects upon the many personalities of the characters within both plays.
Through dialogue, conflict, symbolism and stage direction Nowra has portrayed the important themes and ideas of the play. Louis Nowra has displayed mental illness and madness through the play Cosi and has used stereotypical views of the mental illness patients audiences own views of their treatment
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