‘Russian Troll Farm’ Off Broadway Review: Hitting a New Low in Election Interference

Playwright Sarah Gancher has 20-20 hindsight and still gets it wrong on the 2016 presidential election

Haskell King, John Lavelle, Renata Friedman and Hadi Tabbal in "Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy"
Haskell King, John Lavelle, Renata Friedman and Hadi Tabbal in "Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy" (Credit: Carol Rosegg)

It is not likely when you attend a performance of “Hamlet” that you wonder why the Bard’s characters aren’t speaking Danish. It is likely you will wonder why the characters typing away on computers in Russia, trying to disseminate false information to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, are speaking English, and sound and act just like Americans.

Sarah Gancher’s play “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy” opened Thursday at the Vineyard Theatre.

Before we get to what’s wrong with Russian characters sounding as if they lived and worked in Illinois, let’s tackle that word “comedy” in the play’s title. The only laughter escaping from the Vineyard Theatre these days is the forced variety that comes from an audience being embarrassed for the performers. You know when a director – in this case, Darko Tresnjak – is desperate to keep an audience’s attention. In “Russian Troll Farm,” two of the Russian trolls conduct their mundane conversation while seated in toilet stalls next to each other. We are spared sound effects, fortunately. Elsewhere, overacting and a bare chest dominate the stage.

But back to the Russian characters speaking the flattest, most nasal-infected English: It appears possible, after a few dreary scenes in which the characters are manufacturing whacky stories about tunnels under Disneyland and Hillary’s pedophilia, that Gancher is really making her Russian characters stand-ins for Americans who do the same thing in their pajamas on computers just for the fun of it and aren’t being paid, unlike the people working on this troll farm thousands of miles away. Gancher gives us all the loser types: the confirmed loner (Haskell King), the disillusioned journalist (Renata Friedman), the wannabe screenwriter (Hadi Tabbal), the former school clown (John Lavelle) and the twisted, anti-feminist female boss (Christine Lahti).

Interpreting these characters as Americans gives Gancher way too much credit. Late in “Russian Troll Farm,” Lahti’s horrible boss delivers a long monologue that presents a Cliffs Notes history on the last 60 years in Russia, including the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Her sob-sister confession is pure soap opera in its pandering to gays and women. She leaves out people of color in her talk, but not to worry: One of the other characters has already soft-soaped that minority in an earlier scene.

“Russian Troll Farm” not only gives liberal thinkers a bad name. It makes a pretty good case, inadvertently, for the real Russian trolls not having anything to do with the unfortunate results of the 2016 presidential election.

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