Nuclear Family

Stephen Austin • Theatreview

Yael Gezentsvey (Desiree's daughter) interprets these highly volatile, emotional, staunch people through the course of the performance and gives them all the heart and style she can muster. While some physical switches are not always as tight as they could be, her shifts through multiple accents, often within mere words of each other, are seamless.

The immigrant experience is such fertile ground in which to plant and grow a rich piece of theatre. So many possible characters, ideas and emotions abound in the concept of leaving one's homeland for foreign shores to start a new life. Now that New Zealand has evolved into a more multicultural society in the last 75 years or so of its existence, the voices we are starting to hear are becoming much more diversified; excitingly so.

Nuclear Family weaves a rich familiar tale through the lives of two families – one Venuzuelan, the other Soviet Jewish – who, for their various reasons, are forging ahead to start anew on Kiwi shores. The patriarchy want to keep the orders of tradition, while the younger members eagerly explore their new country, its culture and its sexuality. All while tensions back home mount with familial concerns and heightening political situations.

All of these things are clear in Desiree Gezentsvey's tightly compact script, which is set in a pre-Chernoybl New Zealand, with all of the associated nods to news of the day referenced. Most of these pointers to time and place seem overly functional and a bit kitsch, not really serving the play and the central characters at its core as well as they should. The devastation of that disaster we are left with at the end is slightly hollow, where it should have left us profoundly moved. I wonder if this same story could easily be moved into a more contemporary setting without the need for the historical context.

The characters are certainly vividly drawn and extremely enjoyable though.

Yael Gezentsvey (Desiree's daughter) interprets these highly volatile, emotional, staunch people through the course of the performance and gives them all the heart and style she can muster. While some physical switches are not always as tight as they could be, her shifts through multiple accents, often within mere words of each other, are seamless.

Her Babushka, especially, is lovingly rendered with a tactile quality that evokes so many grandmothers.

This is a very female dominant story, and the men involved are almost incidental, joking throw-aways to the plot, though both playwright and performer are careful not to exclude any of the experiences of any of the cultures on either side of the culture divide.

The set, consisting of yin-yang fences and letter-boxes, helps to realise the dislocation and create an excellent frame to the playing space. The lighting is swift and effective to help with changes of location and time.

Something certainly rings of the autobiographical here, especially considering the production team behind this, but I find myself wandering from lengthy passages that seem a bit repetitive and could well use a blue pencil. The lovely warm characters simply could have been allowed to breathe more and it would have been even more engaging.

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