Steamboat Springs Lewis Riley was nervous when he walked into the asylum. He'd never been around "crazy" people before and was reticent to even shake a hand. His face was red with embarrassment, but he needed the money. He was here to direct the "loonies" in a therapeutic play.
Riley, played by Robert Walker, is the star of the Steamboat Community Players' summer production, "Cosi."
Riley is fresh out of college, and his first lessons outside the safe confines of the classroom are tough ones.
He directed a few plays in college, he tells the patients, but it soon becomes clear that he isn't comfortable in the theater.
The lights come up on the first scene. Riley stumbles into an abandoned theater with his girlfriend and housemate.
Riley's friend, Nick (played by Mike Mead), agreed to help with the play in exchange for help with a Vietnam War protest he is organizing.
The room smells of mold. The theater came with a parcel of land the asylum purchased and it hasn't been used for much more than teenage mischief and storage.
The first patient they meet is Roy (played by David Jolly) when he breaks in through a window.
Roy is an overbearing character who takes over the production as soon as all the patients are present. He laughs at Riley's plan to stage a Bertolt Brecht play and suggests instead the Mozart opera "Cosi fan tutte."
"Roy bullies everyone into doing the opera," director Nina Rogers said. "The problem is that no one can sing and no one speaks Italian."
The cast of characters for "Cosi" couldn't be more diverse or more fun for the Steamboat Community Players.
Doug (Cody Puckett) is a pyromaniac; Henry (Ken Potter) is a stuttering and withdrawn ex-attorney; Cherry (Lia Kozatch) is not very good at controlling her passions; Ruth (Cheryl Clifford) was driven to the asylum by her anal-retentive behavior and Julie (Aly Matthews) is a recovering heroin addict.
"Every actor got a chance to do something completely foreign to them," Rogers said. "Kozatch plays a woman who constantly gropes Lewis. It was a real stretch for her. Walker, who plays Lewis, also very reserved, but kisses all the girls by the end of the play."
A plot unfolds as a comedy should. Between antics, the cast of "Cosi fan tutte" works together to perform the opera and the production works to pull each of them out of themselves, Rogers said.
In the end, Riley starts to see them as people and not as lunatics.
Rogers decided to stage "Cosi" after seeing a film based on the play. "Cosi" is an Australian play and it took a lot of Internet research to find a copy of the script, she said.
All cast members, except Kozatch and Jolly, are new to the Steamboat Community Players and most are in their late teens and early 20s.
"I love the people who usually do our plays," Roger said. "But when younger people come in, it gives me the feeling that this theater is going to continue."