Imagine Brighton Beach Memoirs evolving into Little Odessa, and you have something of the tone of Erika Sheffer’s RUSSIAN TRANSPORT.
The play begins with established Russian Jewish emigre couple to Brooklyn, New York, Diana and Misha, welcoming Diana’s brother, Boris, newly arrived from Russia.
The couple’s son, Alex, and daughter, Mira, are a little put out by this latest addition to the household, especially Mira who has to give up her bedroom for her uncle. It’s the first inkling of the toxic male supremacy that hangs over the old culture, perpetrated in this instance by the house matriarch, Diana.
Sheffer channels Neil Simon with a first scene of bon mots and barbed ripostes as teenage son and daughter do sibling sniping and parental stoushing before the arrival of the too attractive to be avuncular Boris.
Diana is delighted to have her little brother under her roof, Misha breaks out the vodka, the kids think he’s an imposition.
Out of the mouths of babes.
What transpires is far uglier than anything Neil Simon put on stage and reminds one of one of the many great scenes in The Godfather II, where a Senator knows of Michael Corleone’s criminal empire and wants a payoff in exchange for letting the Corleone family expand their fronts of casino hotels. However while he is willing to engage in “business” with the Corleone family, he makes his disdain of them clear.“I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself. You and your whole fucking family,”he says. To which Michael replies,“We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.”
RUSSIAN TRANSPORT is red handedly, squarely, about the hypocrisy, we are all susceptible to, the practice of nepotistic blind eye and familial justification to smooth edges of morally jagged terrain.
An ensemble of five fine actors drive RUSSIAN TRANSPORT from a lumbering first half to an exhilarating final act, where, free of the gravitational pull of its exposition, it hurtles through space to destination denouement at dramatic warp speed.
Rebecca Rocheford Davies plays Diana as a domestic diva disdainful of her own family, adoration of her brother eclipsing her feelings for her husband, son or daughter.
Nathan Sapsford’s Boris presents a smooth, suave charm that is a veneer for a violent and vile predator.
Berynn Schwerdt radiates a basic goodness as Misha, a struggling working stiff trying to make ends meet for his family, the burden of being a bread winner made greater by Diana’s aspirations of material gain and status.
Ryan Carter injects the energy of youth in his portrayal of Alex, an energy fueled and spent on rebellion against his parents and establishing a burgeoning independence.
Hayley Sullivan impresses as Mira, sulky but smart pubescent, at first dazzled by her delinquent uncle but soon susses his dark matter. Miss Sullivan also doubles as a series of naive Russian girls transported to America by Boris’ connections, the characters that give he play its title.
Directed by Joseph Uchitel and boasting an impressive two-tiered set by Anna Gardiner, RUSSIAN TRANSPORT plays Eternity Playhouse, Burton Street, Darlinghurst till the end of March.