Nuclear Family

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011


Dominic Sowa

at 10:48 on 23rd Aug 2011



Nuclear family is a play that draws a great deal of its strength from its own filial quality. Written by mother Desiree Gezentsvey, loosely based upon her own family experiences, and performed by daughter Yael Gezentsvey it is a tender exploration of contemporary issues as well as personal dramas.

This play opens the lid on the complexity of life as a migrant in the western world, a topic of debate that has been sidelined by reactionary and extremist rhetoric spouted from both mainstream and fringe elements of society. By following the lives of a group of Venezuelan and soviet Jewish migrants living in 80s New Zealand, both Gezentsvey’s, along with another Gezentsvey on the tech desk, take the viewer on a charming, sometimes dark, always entertaining exploration of what it means to be a migrant in a foreign world.

The sheer skill and talent in Yael Gezentsvey’s performance is mindboggling. As the sole actress, she performs the role of a multitude of characters with various accents, idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Simply clothed in black and on a near bare stage, her talent and the well written script take precedence with no smoke and mirrors. Yael captivates the audience with her ability to perform complex scenes involving many characters. She jumps between characterisations that though initially were a bit confusing due to their number became immediately distinguishable as a result of her ability to capture each individually perfectly in an instantly recognisable manner. Playing man, woman, soviet Jew or Kiwi, she captures all perfectly.

The play itself has the intimate and passionate quality of being drawn from real life experiences. It explores the great challenges of immigrant life; the cultural isolation, the self-ghettoising nature tendencies but also the contrasting desire to enter into the adopted society and succeed. Nuclear Family explores all the heart ache and hope of the predicament countless immigrant across the globe, then and now face. Easily summed up in a single line, the play is a homage to it; “The joys of immigration. Always questioning if you have done the right thing”.

For all its depth, the play is funny and endearing. Yael’s characters are as much comic and charming as they are profoundly emotional. They feel like stock characters with true inner lives. They ae characters familiar enough to recognise, but with enough real life believability to them to make them also mysterious and captivating.

Although this is a heartfelt exploration of interfamily relations, as the name may suggest, the spectre of the Chernobyl disaster looms heavily in the piece. Set just before the famous event, it places the whole immigrant dream into question. Though nuclear free and seen in opposition to the homeland, like is typically realised, New Zealand is not a perfect land paved with gold. Although the families are able to escape repression and find freedom in New Zealand, Gezentsvey’s characters are forced to question their often false expectations and idealisations of life in the democratic world. They are also forced to question their own supposed control over their lives as the menace of Chernobyl grows large and possible doom draws nearer.

This is a play that deserves to become the talk of the fringe. It is a beautiful and poised piece that takes a heartfelt look at very complex ideas. This is a play rich in humour, emotion and pathos. It is just a shame it is only on for so short a run.


Craig Slade

at 11:58 on 23rd Aug 2011



Seeing two solo shows in quick succession today – the first of which received zero stars and was by far the poorest show I have seen at this year’s fringe – it’s fairly safe to say I walked into Nuclear Family with low expectations. Pleasantly, however, my fears were assuaged when Yael Gezentsvey came out onstage and instantly won the hearts of her audience. The charismatic and talented actress, who managed to perform much of the play in a thick Ukrainian accent (and different characters’ voices within that accent, no less) made this piece very enjoyable to watch.

It follows a family from the Ukraine who have chosen to relocate to New Zealand in the mid 1980s, partly to escape Soviet oppression, partly for a fresh start. It deals with themes of long distance family relationships, culture shock and immigration from an immigrant’s point of view. This made the piece intriguing to watch. The script’s dialogue (if you can call one-woman discussions dialogue) was witty and had good progression throughout.

My sole criticism for the piece is that with several different characters from the same family group, with roughly the same accent, it is challenging to keep track of who is saying what to whom and when. Although Gezentsvey dealt admirably with the challenge I think it would have been beyond even the most seasoned performers to pull off every character with aplomb.

In a society where immigration causes such controversy, this sort of production needs to be performed – and heard and enjoyed by all. I may have made it sound like quite a politically focussed piece, but that would be unfair. It’s a warm, friendly, and touching insight into one of the most difficult and least covered issues in the world today. If you enjoy one-woman shows then this will be among the best you’ve seen, and it is only my preference for ensemble pieces that prevents this getting an extra star.


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