No dud [by Matt Baker]
Young writers are frequently reminded to write what they know, and Nuclear Family is a great example of why that is. There is no indication as to which degree this show, written by Venezuelan born veteran writer Desiree Gezentsvey, is autobiographical, which in turn raises the question of how much art should imitate life and where artistic license should be permitted to incorporate theatrical falsehoods to illustrate truths, but there is nonetheless a kernel of truth that resonates throughout the piece.
Performed by Gezentsvey’s daughter Yael, this resonance is compounded when one recognises that there is a generational passing on of story occurring. Aptly presented as a one-woman show, Yael finds a distinct variety of vocal patterning (accents are absolutely spot on) and physicality in each of her 11 (if I counted correctly) characters. Those that are closer to her age are clearly easier for her to morph into, and there is some slight shtick required for the others, but this is forgivable as the humour of these characters acts to drive certain scenes.
The set, designed by both Gezentsveys and publicist Lara Phillips, is wonderfully symbolic. From the simple block colours representing clean green New Zealand, the communist red Soviet Union, and the neutral blue performance space between, to the simple dichotomy of an idyllic picket fence and a world turned upside-down.
Director James Hadley has worked well with Yael to find the full use of her performance space, and incorporate a variety of changes to keep the practicality of the narrative journey alive for both performer and audience for the majority of the show. Technical operator and stage manager Ruby Reihana-Wilson allows for Yael to tell the story without technical interference, assisting with the odd spot when necessary for clarity.
Immigration is a pertinent issue (albeit of varying degrees) in every country and an important one to address, especially via theatre and especially in New Zealand. However, I felt that the full extent of emotionality and drama was not entirely explored in this production. What conflict did exist was relatively minor, at least in regards to the way characters dealt with it. The ending, in particular, could have packed a much more poignant punch. There was some beautiful imagery and hilarious social and linguistic misinterpretation, which I felt was much more in tune with Desiree’s voice. If the script dared to pull away from the confines of traditional structuring and allowed itself to delve into the poetry of Desiree’s background, I believe audiences would follow willingly for what that journey would afford them.
Nuclear Family plays at Q Loft until 10th November. Details see Q.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Stephen Austin.