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Russian Tansport

(Review by Tulis McCall)

Erika Sheffer is a brave writer. Here she tackles family relations, immigration and slavery all in one go. Any one of these would be enough for a play, but Sheffer likes to play big. Good for her.

Diana (Janeane Garofalo) and Misha (Daniel Oreskes) got out of Russia when their first child Alex (Raviv Ullman), now a teenager, was just a baby. Their daughter Mira (Sarah Steele) was born here. For this family, life is a struggle out in Sheapshead Bay. This is part reality and part culture. We meet them on the evening that Diana's brother Boris (Morgan Spector) is about to join the family as the most recent immigrant.

The center of this story is Alex, who is drawn into Boris's web by the promise of a few hundred extra dollars each week if he will do a pick-up and drop off of "something". The something turns out to be a teenage girl who has been lured to the U.S. with the promise of a modeling career. She will, instead, be taken to a drop in New Jersey where she will be forced into sexual slavery. Alex's agreement with Boris sets the family on an ass-over-teakettle trajectory.

If any of you had the good/sad fortune to see the installation at NYU of The Journey you will know that the trafficking of teenage girls is not fiction.

Boris is so creepy that he seems to exude oil from his pores. Played brilliantly by Spector, this is a man who is permanently on simmer and can go hot or cold in a nanno-second. Turns out that the reason Boris can get people to do what he wants is because he has something on everyone. And if he doesn't, he will create a situation in which he will come out on the winning end. Innocence is no defense when dealing with Boris.

Boris insinuates himself into his sister's family like a virus sensing a weak immune system. Sheffer's writing is understated in all the right ways in the scenes between Boris and the teenagers. I was literally squirming in my seat. The scenes between the adults are not quite as successful but they still succeed in bringing home the fact that this tribe is painted into a corner.

Scott Elliot's staging is a mystery. He seems to avoid center stage in favor of the sides and, in the case, the upstairs. The result is that the tiny stage left table serves as a dining area for 5 people who are nearly sitting on top of one another, while the large couch in the center is practically untouched Also crowded into stage left is a blow-up mattress that the actors must step over throughout the play. It is an awkward set and blocking all around.

But the story comes though loud and clear. Sheffer's work is not only written well, it is layered like a switchback trail. Where you are is not where you think you are, and even in the play's conclusion there is well thought-out mystery a plenty.

This is a play that won't let you off the hook.

"Dark-hued, slow-burning drama."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"A solid yarn, well told."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"There are too many structural flaws to ignore."
David Sheward for Back Stage

"Keeps you involved to the very end."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"The very good acting of The New Group's production compensates for the drama's shortcomings."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

"A thoughtful, well-written domestic drama with something original to say."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Variety

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