In the early 2000s the Griffin Theatre Company staged playwright Louis Nowra’s Boyce Trilogy, loosely based on the tribulations of a powerful and dysfunctional Sydney family.
Almost twenty years later, Nowra returns to the Griffin with The Lewis Trilogy, the most audacious staging of his work yet in his long and successful career.
Marking the temporary closure of the Griffin’s Craigend Street premises for renovations, the three plays Summer of the Aliens, Cosi and This Much Is True will be performed by an ensemble cast of eight, staged individually over week nights and twice a week as three plays in one day.
“It’s monumental for any theatre company, but for Griffin it is monumental and very brave,” Louis Nowra, playwright said.
For Nowra this is also a leap of faith as it is the first time that he has worked with Griffin artistic director and CEO Declan Green, who will direct all three productions.
“Trusting Declan…well, you just talk to people and sometimes in a couple of minutes you think to yourself “well, this person is very intelligent and vey interesting, and let’s see where the project goes’,” Nowra said.
“Declan and I exchanged draft after draft in order to get the plays down to 90 or 95 minutes and make them work on their own.”
“We have eight actors and I said to Declan that by the time they get to the third play they will be a company of actors, and companies produce some the best acting, such as what happened with the Lighthouse company in Adelaide with Jim Sharman.”
Summer of the Aliens was one of Nowra’s earlier plays, and is still performed around Australia today.
In Aliens, Lewis, the trilogy’s unifying character, is a young man growing up on a housing estate, set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis.
“Like me, Lewis has an obsession that aliens had ended up on Earth, and had taken over a few people,” Nowra said.
“That is a conspiracy theory that gets wilder and wilder today.”
Cosi is possibly Nowra’s most famous play, being performed regularly in Australia and around the world, and in 1996 was made into film featuring Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths and Davis Wenham.
A quick Google search also reveals that in 2018, Cosi had a run in China, including a 10 day run at the Hongqioa Art Centre in Shanghai.
“It went for two years in China and then Covid stopped it,” Nowra said.
Cosi sees Lewis after graduation working in a mental hospital directing the patients in a production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, as he becomes intwined in their lives.
“We focused on the connection between the three plays about the theme of love that runs through them, and we pushed those connections. Plus, we cut a couple of characters from Cosi to concentrate on the main characters and the story,” Nowra said.
This Much is True draws from characters Nowra knew or observed at his local pub in Woolloomooloo, where Toby Schmitz directed the 2017 Red Line Production at the Old Fitz Theatre.
“Lewis is essentially this guy who kind of finds his own self through people and though the people on the estate in play one,” Nowra said.
“In play two he is working in an asylum with patients who he adores, and in part three, he finds the community in the people in the hotel.
“It is not a middle-class play, these people are outsiders who in the three plays find that they are in a parallel community that has nothing to do with the mainstream.”
The Lewis Trilogy will be performed as separate plays during the week and on the weekends as an epic full day experience across its ten week run starting 9 February 2024.
“It was a big operation and it was interesting to look back at these plays and reconstitute them,” Nowra said.
“I never know how things are going to be received and it is going to be a marathon and will require a lot of energy and concentration from the actors.”
To date Paul Capsis, Nikki Vivica, Thomas Campbell, Philip Lynch, and William Zappa have been confirmed as cast members.