Act 1 Scene 1

Plot

University graduate Lewis, along with his girlfriend, Lucy and friend, Nick arrive at a burnt out theatre where Lewis has been hired to direct a play involving participants from a mental institution. Simply accepting the job for the money, Lewis double-checks that Nick will help him with the ‘madmen’ [pg 1]. Nick, being an experienced director of student productions, agrees only if Lewis returns the favour for Nick’s play, Galileo.

Upon hearing the sound of breaking grass, the frightened three friends are met with Roy, who explains that he broke in since he had stopped by earlier, only to find the door locked. Once acquainted with Roy, who is a patient of the mental institution, Lucy leaves with Nick, who breaks his promise to assist Lewis since he realises that he needs to see his thesis supervisor. Feeling betrayed, Lewis meets Justin Anderson, the social worker who organised the project. Next, Doug arrives, a pyromaniac who exclaims that ‘someone must have been in here before me’, referring to the burnt out theatre. Henry enters soon after, a shy man with disabled left arm carried in an ‘invisible sling’   [pg 3 ] . Roy eagerly asks if they should start working on the play, however Justin declares that they need to wait for the women. Justin then goes on to share his experience with Lewis; how the patients are ‘normal people who have done extraordinary things, thought extraordinary thoughts’ [pg 5] regardless of their current circumstances.

Justin departs when the girls Cherry, Ruth and Julie arrive. He shares a quick tip with Lewis,

whenever this place gets too much for me, I always think of this definition – a madman is someone who arrives at a fancy dress partly dress in the Emperor’s new clothes" [pg 7] .

Beginning his debut as a director, Lewis suggests that they perform The Exception and the Rule by Bertolt Brecht. However, Roy insists that they perform Così Fan Tutte by Mozart. When he explains the plot for Così Fan Tutte, a story about love and fidelity, Lewis is doubtful, since he believes that ‘love is not so important nowadays’ [pg 10] especially with the ongoing Vietnam War. Ruth, who suffers from an obsessive disorder, states that they will need a real cappuccino machine for the opening scene in a coffee shop. Knowing this is impossible, Lewis says that they can just pretend to have coffee. Ruth however, still obsesses with the coffee, wondering how she could stir the froth in fake coffee. Roy tries to instill the idea that it does not matter. Zac, a lithium addict, enters in a ‘soporific’ state. Roy explains that everyone will have to sing, and that the play is entirely in Italian. This renders a dispute between the actors, since all complain that they can’t sing nor speak Italian. Meanwhile, Roy still keen on his choice says to Lewis, ‘I’ll win them over, Jerry! Trust me. Tomorrow come back and you’ll find we’ve missed the iceberg and are sailing in calm waters’ [pg 13].

Analysis

When we first meet Lewis, his values are much alike his friends and other young adults of the 1970s. With the Vietnam War believed to be of significant importance, Lewis felt that love is unimportant compared to the politics of the war. This ideology is reflected in his first choice for the performance, The Exception and the Rule by Bertolt Brecht.  This play deals with socialist politics, much afar from Roy’s choice of Cosi Fan Tutte which, as Lewis views as trivial and irrelevant to modern times.

Nick’s relationship with Lewis is also depicted to be fleeting. While he agrees to assist Lewis, Nick then fails to do so, pretending to be late to a meeting with his thesis supervisor. Later on in the play, it can be assumed that Nick abandoned the play in order to spend time with Lewis’ girlfriend, Lucy. While love is proven to be frivolous for the young adults, so appears the essence of friendship.

Roy’s demands to perform Così Fan Tutte by Mozart forecast the possibility of the ‘madmen’ understanding much more about the world than outsiders give them credit for. Since Lewis is coerced into directing a play that indeed reflects on the endless values of love and fidelity, it is clear that ironically, the patients have much to teach him.  

Moreover, the introduction of so many different personalities reflects the inappropriateness of the mental institution system. While significant scientific advances have been made since the 1970s, the play is a harsh assessment of the lack of personal treatment for each of the patients.

Important Passages

‘It’s all in my head… Tomorrow come back and you’ll find we’ve missed the iceberg and are sailing in calm waters.’ [pg 13]

Important Quotes

‘…coat of paint and it’ll be fine.’ [pg 3]

‘…he loves the theatre apparently. A great enthusiast when he gets going. He has his down periods like a lot of people, but he’s your support, your natural energiser.’

‘asylums are the most inefficient places on this earth.’ [pg 4]

‘…when you want a lobotomy, you just can’t get it can you, Henry?….Who does Henry play? A hero suffering from verbal diarrhoea.’ 

‘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?’ [pg 4-5]

‘normal people who have done extraordinary things, thought extraordinary thoughts.’ [pg 5]

‘whenever this place gets too much for me, I always think of this definition – a madman is someone who arrives at a fancy dress partly dress in the Emperor’s new clothes.’ [pg 7]

Così Fan Tutte: Women are like that.’ [pg 9]

‘…if you could describe the Crusades as a sightseeing lark on the way to Jerusalem….This is a masterpiece.’ [pg 11]

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