Russian Transport

By Dalia Wolfson12th Grade, Hunter College High School For three more weeks this March, it’s easier to reach Little Odessa by walking a few blocks from Times Square instead of taking the B or Q trains en route to Coney Island. The New Group recreates a Soviet immigrant family’s drama for the audience, complete with Bohemian glass cabinets, nesting dolls and folk music between scenes. Russian Transport follows a familiar path, recording the breakup of an already-tottering family as it deals with an intruder. Every Russian family, of course, can find the infamous Uncle Boris prototype in its albums - tall, muscular, criminal, chain-smoking and wild. In this performance, Boris marches in, seducing the daughter Mira, baiting son Alex with money for shady tasks. At first a flirtatious and “fun” character, Boris soon turns malicious as we realize that the play’s title refers to driving young Russian girls from the Newark airport to a “modeling” agency in deep New Jersey. But Alex isn’t corrupt, only seriously misguided: he secretly adds his earning to the family cash envelope, trying to keep his father’s car service afloat. At the beginning of the play, Mira teaches Boris the childish “pinkie promise”. Throughout the play, Boris abuses the power of secrecy, forging and breaking relationships as he swears family members to strict confidence. One line of his resonates: “You want to know a secret?” With every little bargain, Boris strengthens his conviction that earning money serves the family – even when it is acquired through crime and deception. He may have a shred of conscience, but it’s censored out by his blindingly white wife-beater tank, the cruelty of his words and the glimpse of a black gun. As a child of Soviet parents, I found this show difficult to process. The cultural trappings are weak: the only Russian element is found in Lenin zingers, the abundance of vodka and some scratchy Slavic accents. Dostoevsky and Turgenev should have been consulted: Russian Transport could use some crime and punishment, and some fathers and sons. Oftentimes in this play, morality is gray or invisible, and the relationship between parents and children is overlooked in favor of Boris’ interactions. This plotline, unfortunately, can be culled from reality; but, in playwright Erika Sheffers’ case, the characters would be a harder sell. Still, Russian Transport portrays – perhaps too extremely – the immigrant’s path from Novosibirsk to New York. Sheffer certainly catches the persistence of Soviet-era crime and confidentiality even in America. Now, there’s a simple reason for teenyboppers to line up at the box office: the dark, torn character of Alex is actually Disney-sweet Raviv Ullman, of Phil of the Future. But beyond that, the challenges of growing up are, ultimately, all on stage: the push-and-pull between rebellion and civility and the tug of egotism against family loyalty. And reaching maturity, is made of that moment - the decision to press the trigger, or let the bullet stay in its cylinder and turn from secrets and selfishness to transparency and trust. TICKETS: thru 3/24 • $16.25 Student Tickets • 410 W. 42nd St. website