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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
RUSSIAN TRANSPORT
at Theater Row

WESTERN PROMISES
By MATT WINDMAN

  Sarah Steele and Janeane Garofalo/ Ph: Monique Carboni

Although Janeane Garofalo does her best to fake her way through her role in Erika Sheffer’s new play Russian Transport, in which she plays Diana, an overprotective Jewish mother who often breaks into Russian and speaks with a thick accent, you can immediately tell that she doesn’t actually speak the language. But that hardly matters.

This intense, even gripping family drama – which actually marks Sheffer’s first ever play – explores how a Russian immigrant family living in Sheepshead Bay is pulled apart when Boris (Morgan Spector), Diana’s sexy, shady brother, who seems straight out of The Sopranos, arrives from Russia to live with Diana and her husband Misha (Daniel Oreskes).

While teenage daughter Mira (Sarah Steele) immediately finds herself sexually attracted to her uncle, their teenage son Alex (Rajiv Ullman) is unwittingly recruited to take part in Boris’ teenage prostitution ring by driving naive Russian girls – falsely believing they were brought to the United States to become fashion models – from the airport into New Jersey. It turns out that Misha, who now runs a struggling car service, got mixed up in the same racket just like Alex.

Scott Elliott’s frequently engaging Off-Broadway staging, produced at Theater Row by The New Group, heightens the mounting hostilities that pervade the two-story household – perhaps even too much at times. Spector overplays his character’s villainous side. And although there is no nudity, one moment between Steele and Spector is extremely graphic and disturbing.

In spite of the aforesaid accent issues, Garofalo, who is better known as a comedian than a stage actress, delivers a strong performance that highlights her character’s tough, protective personality and sarcastic edge.

Oreskes is sympathetic as a father trying to protect both his family and business while not delving into immoral territory. Steele, who is in her mid-20s and best remembered for the film Spanglish, remains credible both physically and emotionally as an innocent young girl. As the self-loving, unapologetically criminal Boris, Spector has a genuinely dangerous, even villainous quality that makes this production all the more thrilling.

 


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