Review by Sarah Lucie
It has been done time and time again, but who doesn’t love a play about putting on a play? The theatrical inside jokes, the romance, the egos ... add a few attractive Australian accents and ridiculous high jinks that could only occur in a mental ward, and you have Louis Nowra’s Australian hit, Cosi.
Cosi is a quick-witted and warm-hearted take on the classic putting-on-a-play theme. But in this iteration, a naïve college grad Lewis (Adam Zivkovic) is in over his head directing a cast of mental patients who choose to perform Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte, despite the fact that no one can sing nor speak Italian. But, like all good comedies, the production comes together in a hilarious climax with endearing successes and laughable mishaps.
What truly sets this play apart is the diverse cast of characters, which includes a manic-depressive theater enthusiast (Matthew Foster), patients suffering from OCD and drug-dependency (Laura Iris Hill and Kathleen Foster), a musician doped up on Lithium (Duke Anderson), a sexually-frustrated pyromaniac (Clint Zugel), a mysteriously silent former lawyer (Stuart Williams), and a woman with a food dependency and a burgeoning obsession with Lewis (Annie Worden). What results is comic gold, thanks to a universally strong cast with vibrant physicality and a commitment to the humanity of their characters rather than cheap laughs.
While much of the play is focused on the comedic ensemble, Lewis’s coming-of-age arc is the story’s center. Adam Zivkovic sensitively embodies the spineless Lewis alive at the play’s beginning, but masterfully allows the character to transform with every scene, eventually discovering his values and standing up to his girlfriend (Olivia Etzine) and arrogant friend Nick (Zach Bubolo). Zivkovic is exactly the likeable boy next door needed to hold the play together.
Another performance that stands out is Annie Worden as Cherry, the lollipop-loving romantic with an eye for Lewis. Worden’s twitchy physicality is comedic genius, making for laugh-out-loud moments that are equally as honest and touching as they are hilarious. Be sure to keep an eye on her even in the ensemble scenes, because Worden doesn’t know how to make a boring choice. Clint Zugel’s bold portrayal of Doug the pyromaniac and Laura Iris Hill’s deeply layered performance as Ruth are also exceptional.
Australian Made Entertainment has made it their goal to introduce Australian writers, actors, directors and designers to the Yankee theater scene, and if all their productions are as extraordinary as this one, the community of New York Aussiephiles will be growing dramatically.
“Cosi” continues through September 23rd at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street, Manhattan; 212-868-4444, www.smarttix.com.