25 and F***ed (Owl & Cat) – theatre review

American playwright Kiki Zapata’s 25 and F***ed gets a world premiere at Melbourne’s Owl & Cat Theatre. This is a comedic drama about three art-school graduates struggling with their daily lives.

Layabout Zach (Saxon Evans) is a 25-year-old man-child with mental health issues. He has just returned home after several months abroad and can only scowl at his two roommates. They’re his best friend Brandon (Victory Ndukwe) and former girlfriend, Lily (Caitie Ross), for whom he still carries a torch.

Penniless, the latter has moved on with her life as best she can because, try as she might, she can’t seem to land a job, so she has taken up with a middle aged construction lawyer, Jeff (Frank Handrum). Often tactless and with a cruel streak, Zach is visited by his single mother, Jeanette (Tania Knight). Zach lies to her and that lie will have significant consequences. 

I found the early establishment scenes insubstantial and wearing. It seemed to take forever for the play – which unfolds in an hour-long first act and 15 minutes after interval – to take off. Once it did, it was like a switch had been turned on and it kicked up a gear. 

Suddenly, I found myself a lot more interested in the goings on. I felt involved, something that had been seriously missing, which I attribute to the writing. 25 And F***ed needed a stronger opening. I did like the darker places into which the play ventured in time, which gave the material greater substance as a result.

Playwright Zapata says she had always heard the teen years were the hardest, “but I feel the 20s can be a rocky mess as well”. She talks about the decision making and the struggles, along with the pressures, traps and fears of the modern age, and how overwhelming that can be. Conversely, she references the joy, intensity and possibility that is also on offer. “It is this wild time in life” that 25 and F***ed explores.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t sold on all of the acting. Some of it appeared “delivered” rather than organic. I really struggled throughout with Zach’s characterisation. I thought he was played as an obnoxious, wet blanket and that simply didn’t work for me. As the pivot point, I needed to care more about him and yet he didn’t manage to build that all important audience connection. Neither was I enamoured with Lily’s new boyfriend or Zach’s mother. 

On a positive note, Ross has real personality as Lily, while Ndukwe resonated as Brandon, the gay son of a successful, prominent lawyer. I didn’t buy into two important storyline threads. The plotting – at least what I saw in front of me – failed to convince me that Zach and Brandon were besties. Nor did I see anything to signal the previous relationship between Zach and Lily.

In keeping with the high standard established by The Owl and Cat Theatre, the set design is most impressive. It is busy – very busy. Three faux beds, a kitchenette and myriad odds and sods have been squeezed into a small space to represent the loft apartment called for – shared living at close quarters.

25 And F***ed isn’t as funny as it purports to be. It shows promise but lacks emotional maturity until the final scene. It marks Isobel Summer’s second solo directorial effort at The Owl and Cat, 34 Swan Street, Richmond, where it is playing until 5th August.

Alex First

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