Cosi Fan Tutte is a comic opera by Mozart filled with dazzling music, beautiful voices and hilarious complications.
Imagine trying to cast it with amateur performers. The musical score alone would be daunting. Then you'd need singers (not merely people who can sing). Of course, these same singers must also be skilled comedic actors.
Forget about budget. There is none.
You'd have to be mad, right?
Well, it turns out that madness helps -- at least it does in Lewis Nowra's play Cosi which opened Oct. 28 at Augusta Technical Institute's performing arts theater.
Produced by The Augusta Theatre Company, Cosi is a darkish comedy about a group of mental patients who are given liberty to stage a play as therapy.
At the insistence of Roy, an inmate of the institution (played by Michael Budd), the group takes aim at the Mozart opera. Their director, Lewis (Justin Purvis), is not an inmate; he's a college dropout, though he's ready to be committed after his first encounters with his cast, especially Roy.
Mr. Budd is incredible as Roy. He's a mad bundle of tics, mannerisms, and gestures who stands way too close to everyone he talks to. He's filled with manic inspiration and energy one moment and slumped in dark depression the next. And he's always extremely annoying.
Henry (David Bartlett), is on stage through most of the show, but he doesn't have a lot of lines. Those he does have, he delivers powerfully, especially his outburst about Americans in Vietnam (the play is set in 1971) and the loss of his father. A fine performance by an Augusta stage veteran.
Julie Menger turns in a strong performance as Cherry, an inmate and actor in the opera within the play. Her tone and body language make her lust for Lewis comically obvious. Joy Swanson shines as Ruth, an obsessive-compulsive who insists on having the differences between reality and illusion spelled out exactly, differences that aren't always so clear under the best of circumstances.
Tony Cooper doubles as Nick and Justin. And he creates two distinctly different -- and interesting -- characters. Emily Makuch is strong as Julie, a burned-out junkie.
Music for the opera within the play is to be performed by Zac, amusingly played by Robert Schwamberger, who slumps over his piano again and again in drug-induced comas.
There are some minor pacing problems, and some speeches are lost to poor articulation, but the play is clearly worth the price of admission.
Cosi, a dark comedy staged by the Augusta Theatre Company
Jack B. Patrick Information Center, Augusta Technical Institute, 3116 Deans Bridge Road
7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and Nov. 11-13, with additional 3:30 p.m. performances this Saturday and Saturday, Nov. 13.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for senior citizens and students. Tickets for Saturday's matinee are two for one and proceeds benefit the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center.
Richard Davis Jr. is a playwright and a professor of English, communications and humanities at Augusta State University.