A Touching Family Portrait at the Centre of Anna Panunto’s Recent Play

by Anna Foschi Ciampolini

What goes on in the Panna family’s living room, their arguing,  their sharing funny or intimate moments, could have happened in almost every Italian-Canadian family’s living room back in the 1970s and could probably happen today. Anna Panunto’s new play “Where the Heart Is: 1979,” is about family, intergenerational conflicts, and above all, enduring love and loyalty. Panunto poured a great deal of genuine emotion and loving tenderness into her play, written as a homage to her father, Antonio Panunto who died in 2017, and was an influential figure in her life. A character in the play, Antonio Panna, superbly portrayed by Carl Ragonese, closely resembles Antonio Panunto, described as a successful, open-minded entrepreneur, a family man doting on his rebellious but gifted daughter Marianna who wants to be a journalist and a writer. Antonio recognizes and appreciates her intelligence and her need to express her talent. His more conservative wife Liliana holds a down-to-earth view and would be content with Marianna settling for a less challenging career which would leave her time to be a good wife and mother. The two other characters, Uncle Giancarlo and Franco, Marianna’s sweetheart, portray distinct aspects of masculinity: while good provider and good-hearted Giancarlo is a man of unshakable certainties like many in his times, and believes that the role of women consists in being good house-wives and mothers, Franco has a more fluid, gentler approach, and can listen to Marianna’s ideas and wants. Franco is appearance-conscious and checks his new outfit in search of approuval, almost like a metrosexual.

The story revolves around the bond between Marianna and her father, but the underlying theme is family unity and family love. The characters are skillfully nuanced, and we can see their vulnerability and vitality. To protect his family, Antonio Panna hides his financial woes; Uncle Giancarlo confesses to Antonio that he has an incurable illness, maybe caused by his work as a miner in Argentina years before but doesn’t want his family to know. Liliane, who also in life has faced her share of displacement and adversity, reveals a “wild” side with her love of cha cha dancing. Marianna, played vibrantly by Elizabeth Martinau, throws tantrums and launches tirades against Uncle Giancarlo’s patriarchy but is always aware that her strength comes from her family. The play’s ending is unexpected and tragic, but it still brings a sense of hope and life fulfillment.

“Where the Heart Is:19179” went on stage at “Casa d’Italia” in Montréal on May 28 and 29, 2022. Joe Cacchione, the Art/Creative Director,  is a multitalented artist, actor, and magician whose competence shines in this production. Dante Rossi, set designer, and construction director, has put together a veritable collection of 1970s memorabilia, from the crocheted sofa throw to the period kitchen stove in the background. Micheline Chartier in the role of Liliana Panna, Nathan Chagoya as Uncle Giancarlo, and Christopher Giuseppe Casacalenda as Franco, all gave their heart and soul to bring their characters to life. Playwright/Producer Anna Panunto is the author of several poetry collections and has published fiction, non-fiction, short stories, and numerous articles in international magazines. She is an Adult Education teacher and a University courses lecturer. As a feminist author, Anna explores themes of bi-culturalism, intergenerational gaps, societal inequalities, and human feelings.

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