Hot to Trotsky -- Too Bold for Broadway?

E.W. Wilder

Issue 3 * Summer 2000

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 appropriate.

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.