Janeane Garofalo heads a Brooklyn family of Russian émigrés in New Group’s premiere
BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
A new drama by Erika Sheffer about a Brooklyn family of emigres, “Russian Transport” is theatrically akin to one of those “matryoshka” figures within which several smaller dolls nest into each other.
What you see on the outside is not necessarily what you find once you open it up.
In the first scene of the play that premiered on Monday at Theatre Row, the little Russian family living in Sheepshead Bay appears like many other transplanted clans who strive to succeed in America today.
The father, Misha, operates a car service business that is struggling to stay afloat. The bustling mom, Diana, works in a bakery and maintains a tight rein on the household finances and her two kids. A high school senior, Alex works part-time in a Verizon store and occasionally drives for his dad. His 14-year-old sister, Mira, aspires to escape the noisy house for a sophomore year abroad. Nice people.
Cheerfully joining them from Russia, as the story begins, is Diana’s younger brother, Boris, a highly confident man in his good-looking 30s who none of them have seen in nearly 20 years. Mira thinks her uncle is dreamy. Alex suggests that he might get Boris a job with Verizon.
Of course Boris is mobbed up, but only gradually does the audience comprehend how deeply the dirt runs through this family.
Colorfully accented by a lot of throwaway Russian dialogue, the two-act play steadily maintains interest until reaching an inconclusive climax. Guns are flashed but never get fired in the course of the action, much in the way that the story itself does not completely resolve. The crucial nexus between Misha, Diana and Boris could well be more dynamically explored by the newcomer playwright, but fortunately the very good acting of The New Group’s production compensates for the drama’s shortcomings.
Sounding and looking authentic as the sharp-tongued Diana, Janeane Garofalo invests her character with a buzzing energy but the show is dominated more by Morgan Spector’s dark presence as the ever-smiling yet menacing Boris. A strapping, brutally handsome man, Spector speaks softly as Boris while effectively radiating danger sexual and otherwise.
Daniel Oreskes appears appropriately harried as the increasingly troubled Misha. Raviv Ullman aptly portrays Alex as a cocky guy who discovers he’s not so smart after all. Sarah Steele does nicely by the innocent Mira as well as three other girls who figure into the story.
Scott Elliott, the director, stages the play with gradually increasing speed on a two-level setting designed by Derek McLane that depicts the family’s comfortably modest home. The red lighting provided by Peter Kaczorowski for the drama’s closing seconds implies that misfortune is about to descend upon them all.
“Russian Transport” continues through March 10 at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.thenewgroup.org.