Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
The play is a bit of a mess, never sure of its focus and set in a long ago era that the playwright doesn't fully understand. The basic plot revolves around Lewis, fresh out of college, who has been hired to direct some sort of dramatic presentation in a mental institution. One of the patients has chosen the Mozart/Da Ponte opera Così Fan Tutti, a challenging choice since no one speaks Italian or sings. The playwright attempts to cover the following: Lewis' personal life involving his girlfriend Lucy and activist friend Nick; his growing relationships with the cast of the production; the emotional climate in America at the time of the Vietnam War; and what the opera's emotional core means when transferred to an era 250 years into the future. The last issue, isolated, might have potential as a subject. I'm not sure that Bertholt Brecht and his epic theater would have been up to this challengeour playwright who was not in America at the crisis point he writes about certainly is not. I can, however, understand why this play might have been chosen for this series. It has a large number of roles that can be cast inter-generationally and can be done with very limited financial resources.
The glory of this production is its cast. In the central role of Lewis is Tanner Holman, about to enter FSU as a BFA Acting Major. The young man has talent, he commands the stage, and he is able to portray his character's emotional growth, but the character has just graduated from college and he cannot quite portray maturity that he personally has yet to achieve. The other most important role is Roy, a patient at the hospital who comes up with the brilliant idea of performing this particular piece. Played by one of our finest local actors, Don Walker, the part becomes a bravura star turn. Roy is a manic depressive and Mr. Walker illuminates the emotional swings as well as the deep emotional depth of the character.
As a life-long opera buff, every time they would rehearse a scene, the music attached to it would play in my head. None of the characters on stage seems to have this strong connection, which would have added a dimension if director Dan Higgs had been able to instill it in his cast. All of the rest of the parts would best be described as supporting. Debbi White as Cherry and Olivia Valek as Julie are patients at the hospital and compete for Nick's affections. Ms. White's Cherry is prepared to mow down anyone in her path to Nick's heart while Ms. Valek shows emotions stirring underneath Julie's addicted self. Tom Aposporos as Henry, a PTSD patient, is very moving as his character begins to open up. Jenny Walker does not get the wonderful and challenging role I recently wished for her here, but she is such a gifted performer that she can find truffles in any field of wild mushrooms; she plays Ruth. Ross Boehringer plays social worker Justin, one of the most underwritten roles in the piece, and Joshua Seavey has a few fine comic moments as piano player Zac. Parker Lawhorne stands out as pyromaniac Doug, and he finds nuance where little is written. Quoc Pham as activist Nick and Anna Massey as girlfriend Lucy round out the cast.
Director Dan Higgs' ability to get good performances out of a wildly diverse cast is amazing as well as making anything out of the mishmash of a script he was given. He has a long history with Don Walker and the chemistry shows. Almost all the credit for what is good about this production belongs to Mr. Higgs.
Financial resources for this show and the Summer Sizzler Series in general are sorely lacking. There were fewer than 50 people at the mid-week performance I attended, so box office revenue must be weak. Set Design by Jeffrey Weber was minimal; he has used whatever he could dig up among set pieces in the warehouse. Costumes by Ross Boehringer have the same issues, although he was able to put together some nice 18th century gowns for Ruth and Julie, playing Fiordiligi and Dorabella in the opera. Lighting by Owen Leonard is effective.
The best part of Cosi is the chance to see favorite local performers alongside some new faces and the opportunities it affords them to trod the boards.
Cosi, through June 26, 2016, at The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Box Office (941) 365-2494. For more information visit www.theplayers.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Director: Dan Higgs