Peter Lefcourt’s “The Assassination of Leon Trotsky: A Comedy” is alleged to be in a similar vein as Michael Frayn’s ever popular play “Noises Off.” The most significant difference is that Frayn continually rewrote his play from its original incarnation in 1982 to its most recent revival in 2002. Lefcourt’s play could use a few dozen more drafts.
Set in artist Frida Kahlo’s Mexican villa, the plot revolves around the arrival of Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalya Sedova, who were exiled by Stalin and sought refuge with Kahlo and her on-again, off-again husband, Diego Rivera.
It’s been recorded that Trotsky had an affair with Kahlo, but in this play everybody sleeps with everybody else.
With nothing much to go on, the actors then take over the play and begin to improvise. Some of it is funny and the improvised soliloquies are recognizable from the plays from which they are hijacked, but the problem with this conceit is that the hijacked speeches have very little to do with the original play in progress. It’s a play within a play that does nothing to advance or elucidate the “Assassination” play.
Then there is a third play; the actors being the actors and talking about the play together as they move the scenery around. It’s not as confusing as it sounds, but it’s not as riotous either.
To give credit where it’s due, there are some funny moments and the acting, under Terri Hanauer’s loose direction, is admirable. The fact that Joe Garcia is the image of Diego Rivera helps, as does Murielle Zuker’s resemblance to Frida Kahlo. The off-note in the performance, however, is that Zuker goes flitting around the stage like a ballerina when in real life Kahlo was crippled and in constant pain from a childhood accident and spent much of her time in bed.
In this 14-person ensemble Joel Swetow stands out as Leon Trotsky, donning multiple accents as he recites the various speeches from his previous stage roles. And Christopher Rivas shows his nimbleness and versatility as the gardener, Jesus.
Kudos must be given to award-winning designer Joel Daavid as well, who created the interior of Frida Kahlo’s Blue House as the set design. You can imagine that the actual house, which is now a museum in Coyoacan, Mexico, looks very much like that.
And lest you think I’ve been too harsh in critiquing this play, here’s what Peter Lefcourt wrote in the program notes about “Assassination.”
“Rest assured that the play has absolutely no redeeming social value. Should you find any hidden meaning in it, keep it to yourself.”
“The Assassination of Leon Trotsky: A Comedy” will continue as a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through July 28. Call (323) 965-7735 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at email@example.com.