to Trotsky: Too Bold for Broadway?
by E.W. Wilder
Based roughly on the life of early Soviet leader Leonid Trotsky, this
new musical and nude review put together by a strange collaboration between
rap maven Hillary Hardcore
and radical femynyst Norma Perfect,
Hot to Trotsky seems to feel free to take liberties (indecent ones?)
with history. Indeed the flowering kimonos were lovely--the is-ness of
a petal-death. But we love Trotsky like we love our own souls, with the
indifference of a loose cousin: we admire her independence, we admire
her pluck, but we know, deep down, that she must be killed.
But when the kimonos are shed, especially that of Lenin, we see the bride
stripped bare, flaccid man-breasts lolling out, sagging gut, sparse uneven
body hair--everything--forcing the viewer to come to her own terms with
with a terrifying, dictatorial body-self.
I admit, the '50s dance number was truly rousing, the transformation
of the Kremlin into the "People's Diner" a stroke of genius
in set design. Magritte Engels (no relation, she contends) should be praised
for the intellectual work on this particular bit of visual structure(alism).
But Hot to Trotsky's most affecting characterization has got to
be Josef Stalin. Portrayed as a ballbreaking leather queen, Stalin here
sums up not only known biographical and historical truth (in an important
break from the rest of the production), but the deeper meaning of dictatorship.
Indeed, the Russian people seem to secretly enjoy the discipline, the
degradation, the very personal violation of dictatorship. They pine for
the Czars when they are deposed, for Communism after its own collapse.
As we speak, they have ushered in the era of Vladimir Putin, who is committed
to a self-described "dictatorship of the law." Stalin represents
the sad and abashing fact of humanity's sycophantic self-hatred and co-dependency,
a sort of socio-sexual double-bind. He sings with the pomp of a gayblade
Elvis and the rapacious self-assurance of one who is devil on the outside,
little boy in need of a spanking beneath.
Stalin, historically and in this production, steals the show from Trotsky,
but the lead still has a few tricks up his sleeve, especially in the whizz-bang
assassination number, in which a carefully choreographed song and dance
with an axe becomes the dance of death itself.
One note of caution to theatergoers: contemporary special effects technology
has reached the point to which spurts of stage blood are capable of reaching
the third row, so make sure to wear your rubbers.
Admittedly, to have Trotsky die in his bath ala' Marat may seem a bit
of a cheap shot, but we should not forget his important place in the Revolution:
it paralleled that of the 19th Century Frenchman in many ways, not the
least of which was to remove any semblance of soul from the affair of
new governance. This makes Trotsky's Motown-style death aria all the more
And, more practically, such scenes support the musical's basic commitment
to the form of nude review in all of its public-made-private connotations,
as well as the veneration of nude review as an historical form itself.
We begin to see here the nexus of history and self: time, in the end,
will tell all and show all, exposing us symbolically as both product and
producer of our acts. Here we see the symbolic symbolized into the literal
act of disrobing, robbing us of our foolish patina of privacy as onlookers
who are, ourselves, products of historical moment.
This is probably why the most convincing of the song and dance numbers
was "I Wanna Be Exploited." Here the Proletariat Chorus, in
a way strangely reminiscent of Greek tragedy, turns the song into a mass
strip-tease all to an uproarious take-off on a Ramones tune. The horns
are well placed in more ways than one, but most of all, as in all of Hot
to Trotsky, we get a sense of the true sado-masochistic nature of
an exploitative social order, Capitalist or Communist, and the truth of
our very souls, loose cousins to our selves.