Cathy Hunt and her journey through 7 Captiva Road

by | Feb 21, 2024

 7 Captiva Road, by Andrea Ciannavei, is an explosive dark comedic drama about three generations of an Italian American family preparing for the death of their matriarch. A potent and intricate work that, for director Cathy Hunt, really grabbed from the outset.

While it was Ciannavei‘s strong writing that attracted Hunt initially, she was also drawn to the idea of revisiting the recent past, that, she explains, we haven’t fully comprehended was actually only 20 years ago, and trying to understand what world we were in then.

“I had watched all of Sopranos during lockdown too, so the Italian American family drama aspect of 7 Captiva Road had a strong pull,” says Hunt. “The dynamic is extremely volatile and there are a lot of fantastic female characters. This play also seemed like a really difficult endeavour and I’d had a bit of a rest prior, so this excited me! To plunge into something challenging.”

The play resonates with Hunt on a personal level as well: “We’re all born into families that shape us before we even understand how that is happening. Part of the journey of “becoming yourself” is trying to grasp what aspect of your family’s heritage you value, and what you need to shed or remake.”

Hunt confides that she grew up into a family that had a lot of secrets and unspoken awarenesses, a family that was also heavily steeped in religion – like the family in this play. “There can be a lot of guilt, shame and silence in a family like this.”

Much like the mafia family Hunt references in The Sopranos, the play is about family and how it’s incredibly complicated for anyone outside that unit to truly understand how it operates.

Playwright Andrea Ciannavei explained to us that in this family no one is willing to not belong to the family,” says Hunt. “That theme of belonging, and where and who you belong with, is potent throughout. For example, there’s a particular character whose sexuality has caused her to be estranged from the wider family. And she grapples with that rejection while her grandmother, the Matriarch of the family who wouldn’t accept her as gay, is dying.”

7 Captiva Rd is also about the migrant experience. “Something very relevant to all Australian audiences who aren’t First Nations. We have imported an idea of what matters from somewhere else and are holding true to multiple truths at the same time,” says Hunt. “The intergenerational divide between the migrant parent, and the children who belong to the new place, can be steep. There can be a lot of judgement directed both ways. Eventually, under all these pressures something’s got to give.”

Hunt describes the work as extremely funny yet also dark in parts. The play takes place over two hot August days with Grand mum expected to pass away at any moment. Everyone has gathered to farewell her.

“It’s very charged because everyone is contesting their right to be there – to belong as much (or more) than others and highlight their special relationship to their beloved Matriarch,” explains Hunt. “There’s a spiritual or supernatural dimension to this family’s attitude to their Grand other – it’s almost as if she’s the Virgin Mary herself.”

Hunt hopes that the play will encourage audiences to think about their own families, and families in general – both in the actual and the symbolic sense. How they work through structures of silencing and how the power dynamics can be profoundly impactful to our sense of self.

“Most of the characters are struggling to get free of the restrictions that belonging to this family has placed on their ideas of who they are. Yet they desperately still need to belong. In particular we have been unpacking the way children are shaped and damaged because of the misused power dynamic between parents and children.”

Brought to the stage by ensemble company Anthropocene Play Company, Hunt has been a fan for some time.

“I saw quite a few shows of theirs last year including Uncle Vanya at Theatre Works, which struck me as being one of the few interpretations I’d ever seen in which the character of Vanya made sense and was believable in his extremity. I also saw Naomi which was incredibly moving, and their work staged in a mansion in Toorak, Ignis. So, when Bronwen (Artistic Director Bronwen Coleman) asked me to consider the project I was very honoured – it’s always encouraging when another director trusts you to direct them. We talked about the project, and I got hooked.”

Anthropocene Play Company is known for making interesting work in unique ways and Hunt really appreciates the dedication to craft the company works under as well as the personal commitment and determination brought by each member of the ensemble to the work. “It’s been such a positive space to create in and everyone has been so open to trying new ways of working. Directing 10 actors is a lot, but this team are close-knit, supportive and collaborative. It has made my coming in to work with them a lot easier.”

Hunt and the team have done a lot of character work do far and the team had already done a creative development at Bunjil Place last year.

Hunt explains that because of the nature of this being a new work, the first few weeks of rehearsal involved further script development, which was challenging because they couldn’t fully design the play or even understand the arcs until they’d nutted this out with the writer.

“We would work on something, ask her questions, and then she’d send us another pass of the scene. It did make one feel a bit uncertain about how to go forward,” says Hunt.  “But the play we have to work with now is just so much better; more elastic and tested and thought through than any version without this script development stage, so it was all worth it!”

Hunt is a director and dramaturg, who trained at the VCA and as a creative she is really drawn to stories that feature deep ambivalence and predicaments where someone is caught or trapped by aspects of their own subjectivity, or mind. More a mental struggle, than an action movie.

She is especially drawn to kinds of vulnerability that might not be initially or easily understood, and characters who are deeply imperfect but able to be understood and empathised with. “I’m compelled by exploring the experience of young women, especially their formative or coming of age experiences. And I like characters that don’t fit or are prickly in some way – like Hedda Gabler. I am drawn to stories that deconstruct gendered power relationships and stories that include and articulate queer experiences.”

Hunt also likes entering right into the details of a particular historic time or situation, so that something extreme or heightened, makes complete sense.

Set in New England, 2004, 7 Captiva Road is a riveting tale of generational violence, denial, and abuse. Says Hunt, ” This show is for anyone who has ever dreaded going home for a family occasion or funeral.  Think Sopranos, without the mafia content. Phenomenal punchy funny writing. Family tensions without the tension of being with your actual family, what’s not to love about that?”

February 21 – March 3

www.chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/7-captiva-road/

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