Last Sunday, I walked into the Downstairs Belvoir space and was greeted by a lively family gathering. There was drinking and cards and an Italian mother handing out biscotti to the audience.
Watching The Italians feels like being adopted into a big, raucous, affectionate, bickering Italian Australian family for a night.
Joe (Brandon Scane) is at a crossroads. He’s got $40,000 in savings stashed under his mattress and must choose between putting a deposit on a Bondi property with his wealthy boyfriend Sal (Danny Ball, also the show’s writer), or giving the money to his estranged cousin (Jonathan Lagudi) who desperately needs to pay his debts.
There are a lot of ideas being explored in The Italians—family, loyalty, class, and the extent to which Italian Australians should try to maintain tradition or assimilate into the Australian culture. But this isn’t a play concerned with being too didactic or serious.
The Italians is a farce that thrives on chaos and silliness.
There’s a bag of cash, a debt, and a deadline. The Russian Mob is (maybe) involved. There’s an Italian nonna in drag, a drug sequence, and a talking painting of the Madonna. There are characters riding Razor Scooters that are pretending to be Vespas, and multiple musical performances. It’s not the most coherent script, but that haphazard quality is what makes it so charming.
The Italians has the energy of a university revue or high school play. It doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but everyone’s having so much fun that you don’t really care.
It’s very silly, but purposefully so. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the large ensemble cast are all clearly having a great time. Playwright Danny Ball, concept writer Thomas De Angelis, director Riley Spadaro, and producer Philip D’Ambrosio know what kind of story they want to tell, and for the most part they nail it.
There is one brief scene, however, where Ball attempts to tackle some serious subject matter head-on. This tonal shift doesn’t really land, and the abrupt earnestness felt out-of-step with the light-hearted comic tone of the rest of the play.
As director, Spadaro’s staging choices are playful and creative. He takes full advantage of the intimate Downstairs Belvoir space to involve the audience in fun and unexpected ways.
Having no Italian heritage, I’m not the target audience for this show, and a lot of the humour about the ins and outs of Italian Australian culture went over my head.
That being said, I still had a very fun night out. Even though not every joke landed for me personally, the joyful atmosphere of the sold-out Sunday show was contagious. Buy a ticket if you can—this is one guaranteed night of laughs.