Nuclear Family

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

By Desiree Gezentsvey
Circa Theatre | July 24-August 4

The nuclear family, supposedly the most recognisable configuration of the family unit, is best watched on stage through the filter of our own family experiences. This task becomes difficult, however, when the on-stage family of said play is nigh on impossible to follow. Desiree Gezentsvey’s Nuclear Family, directed by James Hadley, suffers from a very fundamental problem; it is hard to know what is going on.

Performer Yael Gezentsvey is clearly extremely talented. Her command of accent, her presence and ease with the audience, indeed her detailed and confident interpretation of every nuanced character is impressive. But her pace is repetitive and characters meld together. The end result: it is nigh on impossible to remember who each of our core characters are, let alone note the subtle differences between them.

The play appears to have all the ingredients of a success. Nuclear Family’s mother-daughter creative team has used their family history as a starting point, suggesting the potential for a potent piece of theatre. Indeed lines like “the joys of immigration, always questioning if you’ve done the right thing” suggest a real contemplation of their past. The set has, to the left, a picket fence with two letterboxes and, to the right, the same configuration except upside down. It is another clue into what this piece explores. Unfortunately, an audience cannot connect with any of this when they are trying to decipher basic plot and character.

At best, fragments of plot emerge. Immigrants negotiate how best to “bring a plate,” they make assumptions about hangi, Zina falls in love with the local Mike, and we witness a plethora of musings about home. The climax of the play concerns the Chernobyl disaster, but when you don’t know who is supposed to be in danger, feeling anything at all for these characters is a challenge.

On opening night, it is very possible that clarity is the play’s only problem, but it sure is one fatal flaw. With a touch more exposition, this could be a family I would like to get to know.

Filed under: ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts


Samuel Phillips is the Wellington theatre editor for The Lumière Reader. When he isn’t reviewing theatre he can be found making theatre with Wellington-based company, Bright Orange Walls, or studying at Victoria University of Wellington.