7 Captiva Road – Theatre Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s a muggy night in the New England state of Massachusetts in 2004. As Olivia (Helen Doig) stares into the idiot box, she awaits the return of her daughter Francine (Mikhaela Ebony) who has gone to pick up her brother Christopher (Max Garcia Underwood). The quiet house is about to become a warzone and not for the first time.

Inside, Grandmum (Lyndal Charteris) is at death’s door. Bedridden, non-verbal and dying of cancer, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens. Olivia believes it will be tomorrow, on the same day as the Assumption of Mary (August 15, Nonna always was a good Catholic woman after all). This is the reason why so many members of the extended family have been called upon to pay their respects. Olivia‘s sisters, the born again Gabrielle (Bronwen Coleman), the adopted Barbara (Clare Larman), and Barb‘s daughter Joanne (Pia Omeadhra), are the only others who have made it. While Olivia‘s man of the house, old school Italian immigrant husband Enzo (Sebastian Gunner) shuffles around feeling unappreciated.

Over the next night and well into the morning, old grudges will be brought up, passions will be indulged by Christopher with the married neighbour, Maureen (Ani Priyo), and secrets will be exposed. Basically, all around toxicity and tensions will come to a boil because regardless of age, gender or class, everyone has darkness in their past and this powder keg just needs one spark to blow. Welcome to 7 Captiva Road where hell isn’t just other people… it’s your family.

Written by Andrea Ciannavei, 7 Captiva Road‘s origins come all the way from New York City. There, it was developed by LABryinth Theatre Company under artistic directors John Ortiz and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The non-profit off-Broadway company initially started as Latino Actors Base (LAB) before expanding with a multicultural base of talented performers to workshop and hone their craft. The play was experienced by Bronwen Coleman and now her similarly independent Anthropocene Play Company (APC) brings 7 Captiva Road to its world premiere.

Returning home can be a difficult thing with all the emotions and difficult memories it can drudge up. Whether it be dramas in our past or what we’re going through at the time things can inevitably become tense. This is something at the heart of 7 Captiva Road and Ciannavei‘s play explores these themes incredibly well.

Although based around three generations of an Italian American family, this is a diverse story beyond that. The characters, their issues and personal dramas echo down through the generations and are far reaching. From domestic violence both physical and emotional, drug dependency, angst at one’s parents, or feelings of isolation and more. Regardless of your past, I really think there will at least be one character in this story who’s plight resonates with you.

The actors were great and brought the play to life in characters free from forced hysterics or melodrama. That is what makes the story so believable that we are simply watching this damaged family interact over very human and relatable issues. While as an Australian it can be jolting at first hearing such a distinct Massachusetts accent, eventually it too grows on you and this too feels natural. 

A lot of the drama of the play is centred more on the character of Francine than on her mother. Ebony is up to the task having at least one scene with almost every character. She also gives us our view into this family in crisis while Olivia is much more of a “better to not speak about it” type of person. The dynamic between these two characters is fascinating given their differing approach. With you seeing that Olivia‘s means of survival is just as valid as Francine‘s.

Gunner is great as the boisterous Enzo and I think that we’ve all met someone like him before. Most of his scenes come in the second half and are much more humorous, adding to the black comedy of 7 Captiva Road. Underwood as the man-child Christopher was probably the performance I most identified with to be honest. But unfortunately, much of his role seems focused on his relationship with next door neighbour Maureen, far removed from the internal drama of the family itself.

This brings me to 7 Captiva Road‘s great set design by Isabella Edwards. The stage is designed to show us the insides of the house, kitchen, living room and Grandmum‘s deathbed. But also, the front porch where most of the drama happens between many smoke breaks. The lighting by Tom Vulcan and sound design by Jess Keeffe emphasises the differences as the night goes on into the following morning. I particularly liked the touch of having the sound of the TV come up whenever someone opened the (stand-alone) front door.

The minimal gaffs on the night were technical in nature with the cast’s lines and timing being perfect. Sometimes the music hard cut out when it wasn’t supposed to and a hole in a wall is pointed out in dialogue when noticeably none existed on the actual set. But these small errors were the only problems in an otherwise well performed, intriguing show.

7 Captiva Road is a relatable and tense experience sure to evoke memories of familial drama in the audience. Never quite going where you expect it to go and being all the more honest for it. Director Cathy Hunt should be proud to have given this powerful story its first successful production. 

7 Captiva Road is currently playing in Melbourne at Chapel Off Chapel until March 3rd, 2024.
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Photography by Parenthesy – Cameron Grant.

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