REVIEW: 7 Captiva Road by Andrea Ciannavei

Grandma is dying and the extended family are being drawn to the house where she’s seeing out her final days, tended to by her granddaughter, fussed over by her daughters and kept at arms-length by the emotionally-immature men of the clan.

Andrea Ciannavei’s play, 7 Captiva Road, is a kitchen-sink drama, where not much happens, but everything feels like the end-of-the-world. Nobody is talking about what lies underneath the tension, because they are all worried about their dying matriarch. Except, mostly they are worrying about themselves – and how quickly they can get away from the family home. Grandma dying is all about them.

Local theatre group, the Anthropocene Play Company, found Ciannavei’s work when APC Artistic Director, Bronwen Coleman, saw an early reading of the play at LAByrinth in New York. This production, open at Chapel Off Chapel, is its world premiere season.

After some great notices working with local playwrights in 2022, Daniel Mellor’s IGNIS and Angus Cameron’s Cavemxn, it seems strange for APC to pick up an overseas work with no production history. The text feels underdeveloped, unfinished. And while the story of Italian migrants in New England could have been easily transposed to Australia, it wasn’t. I was kept at a distance by the ensemble’s sometimes questionable American accents.

Isbaella Edward’s set design didn’t help, either. Striving for realism, with the working television and electric frypan, there’s a door in the middle of the stage that both cements the idea of voyeurism and also gets in the way. The multiple levels help to create different discrete performance spaces but mostly it feels cramped and muddled. A firmer directorial hand might have alleviated some of the issues I had with entrances and exits, but it’s hard to get past that door – both figuratively and literally.

Mikhaela Ebony’s Francine and Max Garcia Underwood’s Christopher as brother and sister are the most compelling characters on stage – because Francine is doing the most to help grandma and Christopher has waltzed in at the last minute, scared of even seeing the dying woman. Their relationship is the most clearly drawn and their performances are the absolute stand-outs.

There are compelling moments in the script – cousins Francine and Joanne (Pia Omeadhra) tending to their grandmother, while she lies in bed, barely-conscious, is very moving. But that is contrasted by the one-scene cameo of Bob, husband to one of the dying woman’s daughters, who has apparently been arrested for child rape. The revelation is foreshadowed but the tone of the scene is so wildly different to the other domestic scenes that feel so relatable. Even if those moments are as dramatically inconsequential as sneaking a joint on the veranda or making pancakes or a father who doesn’t know how to wash the dishes properly.

This is an uneven production of a script that needs further development. The story needs more focus. Large ensemble dramas should make sure each character feels essential, but at least three characters could have been lifted out without anyone noticing. At one point, it’s made clear the play is set in the early 2000s and I wondered if that’s something that could have been ironed out – or made more clear – in another re-write. Why is the play set then? If your play is set twenty years ago, what resonance is that supposed to have on the characters and the audience?

And why, oh why, did they cast an actor to lie in bed, mouth open, and “play” Grandma like that for two-hours? Such strange choices all around.

- Keith Gow, Theatre First

7 Captiva Road is on at Chapel off Chapel until March 3rd

Photos: Parenthesy - Cameron Grant