Theater Review: RUSSIAN TROLL FARM: A WORKPLACE COMEDY (TheaterWorks Hartford, TheatreSquared, The Civilians)

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by Tony Frankel on October 30, 2020

in Theater-New York,Theater-Regional,Virtual


Somewhere in the bowels of Saint Petersburg, Russia, there is an agency made up of both Americans and Russians that trolls the internet, creating hashtags and Facebook posts and memes from people who do not exist, and hurl them around the internet so that gullible Americans become so divisive and riled that they actually let Donald Trump be voted in — or rather — win the U.S. Presidential Election. In Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy, we meet five experts who know what grabs the attention of those who would be swayed like sheep to the slaughter (eyeing Twitter Feeds and Facebook posts, anyone?).

Daniell Slavick and Greg Keller

While you’re watching this multimedia theatrical existentialist frightening funny full-length wonder, it may remind you of the warnings of Asimov, Bradbury, Orwell, Huxley and others who fictionalized worlds where hype and politics meet technology, creating a beast that can’t be stopped. But this idea ain’t fiction. Yeah, it’s a play, written with incredible understanding and acumen by Sarah Gancher, but one that is inspired by the actual transcripts from the Russian government-backed Internet Research Agency in the run-up to the 2016 election, which means some of the posted lies are lifted from reality. “These white people out here saying hillary killed an immigrant baby in a dungeon under Disneyland,” writes “T’Neesie Sands.” Hilarious and haunting.

Haskell King

Gancher, instead of rewriting her play to be filmed, wrote specifically for a digital platform. Actors performed alone, and were then aided and stitched together by a panoply of technical wizardry led by co-directors Elizabeth Williamson (dramaturg) and Jared Mezzocchi (multimedia). Streamed live for a short five-performance run, I saw the on-demand version now playing through January 14, 2021 (or longer, hopefully).

Haskell King, Ian Lassiter, Danielle Slavick and Greg Keller

Ms. Gancher understands that people who create conspiracies (Q-Anon, anyone?) end up in an eddy of lies until they begin to disassociate with reality (Trump, anyone?) and, even worse, begin to believe it with a fervor that belies what is right in front of them (my own family, anyone?). Danielle Slavick is Masha, who got in trouble for sleeping with a married higher-up when she was a fake-news journalist; now, she winds up involved in an office romance with married supervisor Nikolai (Greg Keller). Super-geek Egor (Haskell King) is an intense, withdrawn workaholic who poses as an African-American online; does he relate to them because he also feels chained to oppression in Russia? His boss Ljuba (the electrifying Mia Katigbak) staunchly defends their goals to win an election, so target those mid-western wives instead! She later comes clean about her previous life under totalitarianism as a Jew and lesbian, describing how she morphed into a puppet for the Putin-led regime.

Mia Katigbak

Steve (Ian Lassiter) would be an ideal member of The Proud Boys. This neo-fascist has an unfavorable opinion of everything but himself. So pompous and deluded is he that he daydreams himself into a videogame heroically squashing the enemies. This segment, in which Amith Chandrahaker’s lights and Andre Pleuss’s sound and music get a real showcase, is probably a bit too long, but it perfectly embodies the racist, sexist, paranoiac peon who doesn’t want to be told what to do, spewing his righteousness and anger all over the wide world web. His pompous self-importance is summed up perfectly when he says, “Stories are between sleep and sex.”

Haskell King

Presented in association with The Civilians in New York, TheaterWorks Hartford in Connecticut and TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Arkansas have created a platform that is another highly recommended triumph in The Civilians’ unique brand of investigative theater, creatively crossing fact and fiction to grapple with how our culture is constructed — or, as it is, reconstructed.

Haskell King and Ian Lassiter

screenshots courtesy of TheaterWorks Hartford

for tickets, call 860.527.7838 or visit Russian Troll Farm

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