English Learners Portfolio

“Powerful drama is as much about visual spectacle as about dialogue.” In what ways does Nowra make powerful use of the visual elements of his play ‘Cosi’?

Throughout the dramatic and at the same time comedic play “Cosi” Nowra effectively utilizes visual elements in order to add to the element of drama by demonstrating the character’s feelings and sometimes contrasting their dialogue and actions. 

At the beginning of the play (Act 1, scene 1) Nowra presents Henry as a very shy character. He “obediently”does what is told, stands quietly and holds his paralysed arm or plays “with his toy soldiers”. After that, at Scene Four, there is a dramatic contrast in Henry’s character. The subject of the Vietnamese war makes him very frustrated as his father was an Australian soldier who died during the war. When he learns that Nick is supporting the Viet Cong, he “grabs Nick in a bear hug” and “bangs his chair on the floor” in anger. From these actions we learn that Henry’s arm isn’t physically paralysed. We also learn that Henry, the shy quiet character, can become very violent and aggressive. The audience now realizes that the visual element that Nowra uses at the beginning, making Henry play with his toy soldiers, foreshadows his violent reaction for the war later on. Henry then stops himself from hitting Lewis “raises his fist as if to hit Lewis…. Pauses and then drops his arm” which conveys his significant transformation in self control and how he now takes responsibility for his actions which makes the audience sympathize with him.

Another way Nowra presents a contrast in character’s behavior by employing  visual elements is through Lewis’s character. At the beginning it seems that 
Lewis lacks confidence and is uncertain how to deal with the patients. In contrast, at the end of Act 1, he takes an action and blocks Henry from  storming away. “Lewis jumps in front of Henry… pushes Henry back”. These actions suggest his willingness to put himself in a risky position in order to make sure the show doesn’t fall apart. This contrast is a powerful way of creating a dramatic effect in the play.

Moreover, a reversal in the roles in the relationship between Henry and Roy is presented through stage directions. At the beginning, Roy was the powerful one, acting in a degrading way towards Henry, by talking about his failure as a lawyer. It is also shown when “roy trips Henry”. Later on, in a conversation with Henry Roy “hesitates” before he speaks, which portrays Henry’s power over Roy. This reversal is also effective in adding drama and interest to the play. 

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