By Jordan A. Porter-Woodruff | JAPWoodruff@gmail.com
Family life continuously throws us obstacles that are usually dealt with by available resources, finances and familial support. However, against odds, not all families have such an “easy fix” and sometimes turn to nontraditional solutions. Steppenwolf Theatre’s Russian Transport attempts to bring us into the home of an immigrant Russian family residing in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. As we know, immigration stems from the undeniably fleeting, “American Dream.” There are plenty of stories and ideas as to who it does and does not work for. Written by Erika Sheffer and directed by Yasen Peyankov, Russian Transport shows us a wild, yet enthralling glance at an unlikely perception.
Sitting on the side-lines of a modest and comfortable living room, Diana (Mariann Mayberry) the flustered mother, Misha (Alan Wilder) the hardworking, yet, struggling father and their two kids, Mira (Melanie Neilan) and Alex (Aaron Himelstein) we watch a family’s secrets come to light and spread to the next generation. Upon the arrival of Boris (Tim Hopper), Diana’s younger brother from Russia, we are met with a challenging debate regarding an honest life vs. a life of crime all in favor of becoming and feeling successful. Boris’ life of crime (human trafficking) is brought about with an eerie and chilling display once Alex is recruited into the business.
As the story unfolds we feel remorse, sadness and infuriation as the characters blame each other for all uprising and current issues. Speaking in rich Russian accents and in Russian, some lines become unclear and a little confusing as we struggle to hear the message over the commotion. However, the fact of the matter is; this family has to survive. The family’s dependency on each other is what fuels and brings the audience to a true connection with each character.
The characters are very convincing given the setting. However, the dynamic between Diana and her daughter Mira and son Alex is a little confusing. Diana favors all of Alex’s choices, including the jobs for Boris; however, she is completely against Mira studying abroad in Europe. Here is where the honest life vs. life of crime appears personally. It is intricately woven in the play when you realize a mother is more interested in her son trafficking young girls than she is with her daughter traveling the world. The ending of the play gives no answer to this as it ends rather abruptly leaving the audience with a slew of questions.
Nevertheless, with all arguments aside, Russian Transport not only challenges American born citizens to sit and handle subjects that we hear about, but seldom see, it also gives an example that reminds us that hard-work does not mean success. The notion brings thought to many of the issues in America regarding poverty, privilege and the difference between the desire and the power to succeed.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes| Tickets: $20 – $78, call 312-335-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.org