While the title of the Chicago premier now on stage at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theater, may be about a Russian family, it could almost be about any of the ethnic groups that have come from other countries to America. Immigrants, although they may have different customs and traditions all share the desire for the “American Dream”. Just think about the song of that name in “Miss Saigon” or other plays where people have left their country ( or wanted to leave) to get their “dream”. Even in “Fiddler” when the people of Anetevka were forced to leave their homes, they knew that what America held for them had to be better.
In this play, written by Erika Sheffer, whose parents came to the United States from the Ukraine and who settled in a Russian community near Brooklyn, we have a family , that is living that dream. Or at least trying to. Dad,, Misha ( a well defined character by the always reliable Alan Wilder) operates a car service ( very popular in New York). His wifeDiana ( flawlessly played by Mariann Mayberry) takes care of the house and their daughter,Mira ( deliciously played by Melanie Neilan, who has “teen ager” down to perfection, and also does a solid job of portraying three others “girls”). There is also an older son, Alex ( deftly handles by Aaron Himelstein) who is still in school and works two jobs to help out with the family finances. This is what one might call a typical family of immigrants, fighting day to day to survive and make their imprint on their “American Dream”>
Enter into the picture Diana’s brother from Russia, Boris ( Tim Hopper truly has made this character his own). who is a survivor and has some very mysterious contacts as well as some shady business ventures.There are some very mysterious undertones to the story that I will not tell you so that the plot will remain safe with me. But, I can tell you that what Boris does is involved with transporting from one place to another and while it does involve the “American Dream”, it poses problems for this family and their quest toi achieve theirs .
Directed by Yasen Peyankov ( who I am sure understands a great deal more of this than we do), on a set (Joey Wade) that has multi-levels and dual purposes, we are in the home of this family which also included the office for the livery service. We do, from time to time, also find ourselves in a car with some wonderful projections ( Stephan Mazurek ). The lighting ( Scott Zielinski) and sound (Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, who also did some original music) along with the costumes (Ana Kuzmanic) and the props (Desiree Arnold) and the dialect coach (Eva Breneman) all add to the very tight production that Steppenwolf puts on the stage..
While there are many conflicts that we witness in this play, they all have purpose. Read the paper, watch the news, or just pay attention to your daily experience and you will see the phases that are represented in this play; the hard working man who comes here and works to build a new life for his family and futures versus, the smooth operator who prefers the quick easy route, not caring who might be hurt along the way. That is what the picture being painted by artists Peyankov and Sheffer are painting on the stage at Steppenwolf and the actors they are using are the highest quality of art one can hope for. This production will continue at Steppenwolf- Upstairs Theater through May 11th with performances as follows:
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. ( thru 4/27)
running time 2 1/2 hours with one intermission.
Tickets range from $20-$78 and are available at the box office located on the first floor of the Steppenwolf Theatre 1650 N. Halsted Street, by phone at 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
There is parking available on the street and to the south of the theater and of course lots of dining around the area, including a new spot that we adored at 1625 ( across the street). Mediterranean kitchen ( BYOB) moderate prices with a sit down, casual atmosphere.www.dawalaikitchen.com
To see what others are saying about “Russian Transport”, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Russian Transport”.