Although Janeane Garofalo does her best to fake her way through her role in Erika Sheffer's new play "Russian Transport," in which she plays Diana, an overprotective Jewish mother who often breaks into Russian and speaks with a thick accent, you can immediately tell that she doesn't actually speak the language.
This intense, even gripping melodrama explores how a Russian immigrant family living in Sheepshead Bay is pulled apart when Boris (Morgan Spector), Diana's sexy, shady brother, arrives from Russia to live with her and her husband, Misha (Daniel Oreskes).
While their teenage daughter Mira (Sarah Steele) immediately finds herself sexually attracted to her uncle, their teenage son Alex (Rajiv Ullman) is unwittingly recruited to take part in Boris' teenage prostitution ring by driving naive Russian girls - falsely believing they were brought to the U.S. to become fashion models - from the airport to the city.
It turns out that Misha, who now runs a struggling car service, got mixed up in the same racket as Alex.
Scott Elliott's frequently engaging production heightens the mounting hostilities that pervade the two-story household - perhaps even too much at times. Spector overplays his character's villainous side. And, although there is no nudity, one moment between Steele and Spector is extremely graphic and disturbing.
In spite of the aforesaid accent issues, Garofalo (who is better known as a comedian than a stage actress) delivers a strong performance that highlights her character's tough personality and sarcastic edge.
Oreskes is sympathetic as a father trying to protect both his family and his business while sidestepping immoral activity. Steele, who is in her mid-20s, remains credible both physically and emotionally as an innocent young girl.
"Russian Transport" plays at Theater Row through March 10. 410 W. 42nd St., 212-239-6200, thenewgroup.org.