If, as Erika Sheffer’s bio claims, the New Group’s Russian Transport represents her “playwriting debut,” then she has unripe talent, beginner’s luck, and influential names in her phone directory. Set in contemporary Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, this domestic drama aims to give us an inside view of the Russian immigrant community of that area—so perhaps Transport feels justified in taking nearly as long to get moving as a Tarkovsky film. Patriarch Misha (Daniel Oreskes) runs a car service out of his home; his wife, Diana (Janeane Garofalo), has raised one loutish waif, Alex (Raviv Ullman), and one studious, randy girl, Mira (Sarah Steele, who appropriately resembles Regina Spektor). A typical dinner table comment: “Don’t fuck with me!” (That’s Mom.)
Diana’s hunky, threatening, ex-con brother Boris (the stunningly buff Morgan Spector) comes to stay with them, gifting Mira with a matryoshka doll, of which she has plenty already. Unfortunately his gesture echoes the predictable moves of the play. Yes, Boris gets Alex involved in an illegal scheme; yes, he assaults Mira. Despite the valiant efforts of director Scott Elliott and dialect coach Doug Paulson, there’s a wide variety of competence in speaking both the Russian language and its attendant accent (1st place: Ullman; last place: Garafalo), and the flatness of the characters keeps the best performances—Ullman and Steele’s in particular—safe from excellence. There’s tension, and a modicum of tenderness (at the end), but neither big surprises nor complexity, just a slow accumulation of shady activity. This may seem like a family of Russians, but they’re really vulgarians.