Keep it in the family
In her play Nuclear Family, opening at Circa Theatre on July 24, Wellington playwright Desiree Gezentsvey explores the shocks and delights of immigrant families as they settle into New Zealand. It’s a comedic drama which Desiree says questions whether freedom and control over one’s destiny is only an illusion. She depicts a colourful bunch of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union and Venezuela who realise the grass is definitely greener here, but the fence is still there, and their loved ones are on the other side.
For Desiree the whole project has been a family affair. She draws from her own personal experience as an immigrant, having arrived in New Zealand from Venezuela with her Russian born husband and three little daughters in 1985.
“I was born in Venezuela to immigrant Jewish parents, so for several generations nobody in our family has been born and died in the same place,” Desiree says. “I know what it’s like to struggle with emotions about family left behind.”
Those emotions she vividly recorded in letters to her parents still in Venezuela, letters she later rediscovered and which spurred her into writing Nuclear Family.
And the family involvement extends to the play’s production with a solo performance by daughter, Wellington actor Yael Gezentsvey, as she takes on the roles of 12 multi-cultural characters.
“I play 12 characters, men and women, aged from four to 86,” Yael says. “They’re constantly interacting with each other with very quick changes, so no time for props or costumes. I see all the characters on stage with me so I don’t feel alone.”
Nuclear Family was first performed at the Adelaide Arts Festival last year after a chance meeting between Yael and an Australian producer who saw the play’s potential. From Adelaide it went to the Solo Festival in London, then to the Edinborough Festival, and although never performed in the United States, won the 2011 Moondance International Festival Atlantis Award for Best Stageplay (script).
After its New Zealand premiere Nuclear Family will play a season in Auckland.
Nuclear Family, Circa Theatre, July 24 to August 4.