I’ve been laughing for 80 minutes straight. Laughing at the audacity, laughing at the stupidity, and most of all, laughing at the insanity that is The Italians by Danny Ball. If you’re looking for a sensitive exploration of sexuality and assimilation into a multicultural Western country then keep walking, but if you want a solid laugh you’re in the right place.
Joe (Brandon Scane) is a nice boy from a working class family of Italian descent in the suburbs of Sydney, but everything gets turned upside down when his boyfriend’s father offers to buy them a house in Bondi (okay, probably North Bondi) on the proviso that Joe cuts off his debt-ridden family. Can Joe build a future free from the past? Or will the bonds of blood keep them all tied up in a very twisted knot? It’s going to take a perilous mission into the unknown (aka Western Sydney) and some divine visitations from saints, pop stars, and a well known Australian politician to sort this mess out.
This play is more than a little bit bonkers, it has the madcap energy of a slapstick review show. It plays with all the stereotypes of Italians, and second generation immigrants, mining them for laughs while also giving you an affectionate slap on the cheek for finding them funny. One white Australian cries about being an outcast in a majority immigrant school, while an Italian woman gives the whole family a dressing down for romanticising the mother country. The Italians is determined to have its Australianised tiramisu and eat it too.
When the play started I was a little put off by some dialogue that felt stilted and the over-exaggerated accents (very House of Gucci style deliveries), but once the ball started rolling it was hard to not get swept up. This might be a fringe production in an intimate downstairs theatre, but we get a car chase, a kidnapping, a dance recital, an original pop song (‘Gelato Party’), and an abridged Romeo & Juliet; and that’s just the subplots. I loved the moment a character comes to terms with who they really are in an unexpected way and finds inner peace… and no, it’s not a coming out story, all the gays here are very loud and very proud from the word ‘Go’.
While most of the cast play multiple roles, I have to highlight Emma O’Sullivan for delivering a range of demented characters with a raspy, weary air; and Phillip D’Ambrosio for boldly dragging up as everything from a grandmother to a gimp.
Laden with cultural in-jokes and pop culture references (at least one is at the expense of the play upstairs on the Belvoir mainstage), The Italians actually does have a message behind the mayhem. The complexity of being immigrants, the sacrifices parents make for their children, and the strengths and weaknesses of a tight-knit community. It’s there if you care to look for it, but if you just want to have a good cackle at the gags you can let it all fly by.
This show might be silly and scrappy, but I’ve been singing “Be Italian” (from the musical Nine) since I left the theatre and keep flashing back to fun moments. I also have a craving for tiramisu.
By Chad Armstrong
The Italians plays downstairs at Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney until Nov 6th 2002. Click here for tickets and more information.