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VITAL PORTRAYAL OF IMMIGRANTS’ TRIALS

Print Version

NUCLEAR FAMILY
by Desirée Gezentsvey
directed by James Hadley

at Circa Two, Wellington
From 24 Jul 2012 to 4 Aug 2012

Reviewed by Ewen Coleman, 26 Jul 2012
originally published in The Dominion Post

Towards the end of Desiree Gezentsvey's autobiographical play Nuclear Family, currently playing at Circa Two, one of the characters says “the joys of immigration – always questioning if you have done the right thing”.  And of course in such situations family and their support are crucial to surviving the rigors of a new life in a new land. 

All of which is central to this story of a Jewish Russian woman immigrating to NZ with her young son and grandmother, her Babushka, in the mid 1980's, leaving behind a daughter and sister.  Once here she meets up with Abby, a Venezuelan (the writer) who has emigrated from Caracas with her Jewish Russian husband and their two daughters. 

The story then unfolds of how, over the course of a year, these families interact in their attempts to survive in fresh green, nuclear free NZ.  This friendship replaces their extended family of brothers and sisters and in-laws back in Russia culminating in the Chernobyl disaster, hence the play on words in the title of the play.

But what makes this production so remarkable is that it is all told by one person.  Yael Gezentsvey, the writer's daughter and a very accomplished actor, and under the expert direction of James Hadley, takes on the roles of the various family members with consummate ease, fluidly moving from one character to another. 

And although – as is often the case in solo performances where the actor takes on a multitude of roles – the delineation of characters one to another becomes blurred and thus the various strands of the story are difficult for the audience to fit together, for the most part the story unfolds seamlessly.

Confidently and with boundless energy, Gezentsvey is one minute the delightfully intense Babushka, the old grandmother, the next the daughter playing up to her new found love Mike, a typical kiwi bloke. 

There are many comic lines in the play which Gezentsvey delights in regaling the audience with but there are also heartfelt and poignant moments of genuine grief that immigrants feel in adjusting to a new life in a new land giving the piece depth and colour.

The simple set of a white picket fence and brightly coloured letter boxes on one side of the stage in contrast to the upside down brown fence and not so brightly coloured inverted letter boxes on the other subtly highlights the sense of distance and the joys and yet difficulties of families communicating half way round the world to make this one hour solo performance well worth seeing.  
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See also reviews by:
 John Smythe
 Stephen Austin
 Matt Baker (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);