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Brighton Beach Memoirs of a Moldavian Kind
Nyet, reprimands "Russian Doll" Marina, the gorgeously girlish, if somewhat garish, co-star of the new Thursday-night Lifetime series in which Russian emigres embellish their American lives with dreams that drip of riches and diamond rocks.
Caviar dreams? No, they had that back in Russia and see how far it got them. But here, success is just a scimitar away.
And the farther away the better.
Or is success really merely a reality TV series? "We are a combination of Real Housewives, Millionaire Matchmaker -- just a small part of it is Jersey Shore," says Marina, 34 (cast members are identified by their first name only on the series), the latter being Snooki's and the Situation's home turf.
The situation here is that the producers of Russian Dolls have gathered two Russian guys and six women in a mix that would have mixed up Damon Runyon.
A girl could develop a cold idea of what it takes to be a Russian woman on the move in Brighton Beach, site of the half-hour series.
And that has Marina miffed. From Russia with larger-than-life images but no low-life licentiousness, she claims in reference to the MTV series of Jersey Shore that is a completely different beachhead than the one set in Brighton Beach.
Sure, Jersey Shore has made a household name of its brawling, bibulous beach leeches, but a house is not the home Marina makes for herself, her husband and two children, ages 6 and 12, setting her apart from her reality competition, she claims."I am an educated woman," says the college grad who "is all about family."
No Kremlin recriminations since she left in 1990; the anti-Semitism that plagued her and her family back in Rostov-on-Don is done.
She said that when she arrived here with her parents as a young teen, she found that the Judaism jeered in Russia was genuinely accepted here.
Raised Modern Orthodox in America, she was able to attend a Jewish high school in New York, where she read of Jewish accomplishments without taints of Red interpretations.
"Here, I was taught about Jewish holidays and I went on years later to celebrate my son's Bar Mitzvah."
The wrongs of Russia had been replaced by the rites of America.
Yet the TV show does showcase some nagging stereotypes -- demanding Russian women, alternately shown with accommodating/aggressive Russian men.
Care for some Russian dressing with their salad days? Vixens from Vladivostock: The women are depicted addicted to over-the-top get-ups that scream, "Get out of town!" ridiculous in some cases.
Then there's the one portrait of a babbling babushka -- grandmother -- that boggles the mind.
And it just so happens to be Marina's mother-in-law, not above snagging the spotlight in a Miss Grandmother beauty contest.
"We tried not to let her get on the stage," winces Marina of memories of her 56-year-old mother-in-law mincing and maneuvering during a suggestive dance shown on screen.
These are not Neil Simon's Brighton Beach memoirs. "But," she says with a hint of Soviet surrender, "it is what it is."
What it is not, Marina claims of Russian Dolls, is the broken-down, broken-hearted blighted image of Brighton Beach, that "old place for old Russian ladies who never bothered to learn English."
Indeed, Marina's career has an English spin on it that makes it as American as apple ... blintz.
She and her husband own and operate Rasputin, a successful Russian club in Brighton Beach that brightens the area's entertainment scene with its class cabaret acts and multicourse meals.
"It wouldn't be a Russian meal," she avers, "if one inch of the table space were not covered with food."
She finds space, too, for accommodating her children's American dreams, where anything is possible, Marina marvels at the boatloads of hope she and her family set sail on.
Perestroika taken personally? What would Putin say?
Put a sock in it: "He can't relate to us at all," she sniffs of the Russian leader.
"Look, I left 25 years ago; Russia is a different country now."
But there's enough of the Old World to attract new-world audiences to this Lifetime series, which reveals -- just like that nation's famous nesting dolls -- one layer after another of surprises.
And if sometimes she comes off as somewhat of a prima donna -- when not in Brighton Beach, Marina and her husband can be jetting off to their place in Miami -- so, is that a problem, she wants to know?
"I deserve a lot of nice things," Marina says of the caring way her husband adores -- and adorns -- her.
And if she has to put up with the bolshoi of her mother-in-law, well, "family is family," she says with a sigh that another emigre/New Yorker, Molly Goldberg, would fully understand.
Bucking the Trend
Bucking the Trend Just how do you say, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in Russian?
Ruble for ruble, it translates well for Albert, the ambitious 26-year-old from Moldova on the make.
As one of the Russian "guys" in the Russian Dolls series, princely Albert has spent 20 years in this country and now watches Brighton Beach's sands of time sift his way. He came from a nation that was hard and harsh for his Jewish parents, he avows, filled as it was with anti-Semitism. Here, they raised the ante for their son, educated at a local yeshiva and now involved in Jewish action groups, as well as his synagogue.
Albert concedes he is still making his way among the Brighton Beach boardwalk cognoscenti, but this is no bored walk; he knows what he wants -- even if he angrily claims those who wrote his bio don't.
His brief network bio claims "he has two missions in life -- to make a million dollars and marry a nice Russian girl."
Whoever wrote that had skipped a notch on his or her borscht belt, he claims. "It is not to marry a Russian girl, but a Russian Jewish girl," he says, insulted anyone would think otherwise.
And as for that "who wants to be a millionaire"? Nonsense, too. In this day and age, a million bucks won't buckle anyone's knees, he says. Make that a hundred million, he says with a Trump-like laugh.
And that is, indeed, his final answer. But not likely the last viewers will see of this amiably ambitious American attempting to break the mold.