Sunday, February 5, 2012

Russian Transport **

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
An immigrant family struggling to achieve the good life in Brooklyn is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a relative from the old country.  No, I'm not talking about "A View from the Bridge." In this New Group production,  the family are Russian Jews living in Sheepshead Bay and the arriving relative is the wife's younger brother Boris (Morgan Spector.) Misha, the hen-pecked husband (Daniel Oreskes), runs a struggling car service. When she is not bullying her family, domineering wife Diana (Janeane Garofolo) works in a store. Son Alex (Raviv Ullman), still in high school, drives for his father, works in a mobile phone store, and deals a few drugs on the side. He is unrelentingly nasty to his younger sister Mira (Sarah Steele), who dreams of attending a summer program in Florence and must be the first 14-year-old girl in history uninterested in getting her first bra or wearing makeup. Even before Boris arrived, I was not looking forward to spending 2 1/2 hours with these unpleasant people. Diana's brother Boris is a sinisterly seductive sociopath who immediately sets out to corrupt Alex and Mira. He enlists Alex as an initially unwitting driver to transport newly-arrived Russian girls to mysterious locations. He turns on the charm with Mira and shows her his gun. (No, Freudians, an actual gun.) The family members have at each other for 2 1/2 hours, as various secrets are revealed. Playwright Erika Sheffer is not adept at telling a story clearly. At intermission, people around me were arguing about what exactly happened in the final scene of Act One. There is another scene near the end of the play that takes place so quickly and in such darkness that it wasn't clear what actually transpired. Director Scott Elliott shares some of the blame here. The actors are excellent with the exception of Garofolo, who struggles a bit with the Russian accent. Spector is an absolutely chilling Boris. Steele and Ullman are both fine, but I thought that she looked older than her brother, not three years younger. Oreskes deftly avoids stereotype. The two-level set by Derek McLane captures Diana's concept of good taste. I am surprised by the mostly positive reviews the play received. The audience was far less enthusiastic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I sat through the first half of this play and it was so awful I had to leave at intermission. I'm not really sure why Sheffer decided to include so much Russian dialogue, as none of the actors speak the language. As a native speaker, I covered my ears whenever anyone started speaking because the pronunciation was so terrible. Sheffer should have used Russian actors if she wanted the authenticity.
The actors were terrific, but Sheffer's portrayal of a Russian-Jewish family was absurd. No one of that background would dare to curse at his/her family (especially at the the dinner table!), yet it seems everyone in this play swears day and night.

I'm won't even bother addressing the mobster uncle (do Americans really believe that most Russians are in the mob?), the drug-dealing son or the hot-for-her-uncle daughter. I'll just end with how sad it is that Sheffer couldn't write a compelling story involving a Russian family and instead had to rely on outrageous stereotypes that look as though they came out of a lame SNL skit.