One man’s journey from leftist idealism to staunch conservatism in ‘Three Scenes in the Life of a Trotskyist’ at NYC’s The Tank

Originally commissioned and developed by Gingold Theatrical Group and now playing a limited world-premiere engagement at The Tank, Three Scenes in the Life of a Trotskyist by Andy Boyd examines the life of Lev Trachtenberg, whose ideals shift over the span of 40 years from the leftist activism of his student days in 1939, to the staunch conservatism of a right-wing reactionary opposed to the campus rebellions of the 1960s, to embracing the trickle-down theory of Reaganomics in the 1980s, dissociated from his former Trotskyist comrades and leaving them to wonder what caused the dramatic reversal of his socio-political beliefs on his journey to professional success and wealth in a changing America.

(Left to right) Evan Maltby, Ben Schrager, and Jeff Gonzalez. Photo by Nick Dove.

Staged in the venue’s intimate black box theater, the simple design consists of two chairs and a desk, with a modest bag of sandwiches, then massive piles of books and papers, and then a fine crystal pitcher and glasses (set and props by M Picciuto), a back wall of projections that identify the years, historic events and headlines, and significant people of the time, and dramatic shifts to red lighting that signal the different scenes (projections and lighting by Leanna Keyes), as do the changes in period-style attire (costumes by Madeline Rosaler). It’s efficiently telling, giving us the basics of the locations, eras, and characters, while allowing us to focus on the heated conversations in which they engage.

Boyd’s writing is dense and insightful, loaded with erudite references to history, politics, and literature, as well as keen observations on human nature and social constructs, within the context of Lev’s evolution from student activist and debater to Professor of Modernist Literature at Columbia University to world-renowned author and researcher at an Upper West Side think tank. Under the razor-sharp direction of Jake Beckhard, an outstanding cast of five flawlessly delivers the sequence of three impassioned scenes, mostly centered on one-on-one debates, with rapid-fire intensity, capturing the characters’ commitment and motivations, and giving us glimpses into their backgrounds and psychology, while moving around the space, reacting to one another, bringing the distinctive personalities to life, and simultaneously representing their greater socio-economic classes, races, and ethnicities.

Jeff Gonzalez, Ben Schrager, and Evan Maltby. Photo by Nick Dove.

Adopting a heavy Brooklyn accent that bespeaks his character’s origins, Jeff Gonzalez takes the lead as Lev, to whom we’re first introduced as an active member of a student debate club (jokingly named The City College Cafeteria Pugilists), comprised of Jewish students who meet in the food hall at 1 am, driven by their desire to stop Hitler, and, in the case of the less fiery Daniel (played by Evan Maltby), to advance the credentials on his curriculum vitae. A dedicated follower of Trotsky, Lev is adamantly opposed by Ben (Ben Schrager), an equally ardent supporter of Stalin, in a vehement verbal confrontation, the winner of which is to be decided by the as-yet unaligned Daniel.

The opponents’ cases are made and tempers flare, until Paul (Charlie Hurtt) arrives with the 1939 headline news that physically sickens both him and Ben, but leads a frenetic Lev, launching a barrage of f-bombs, to declare himself the winner of the academic debate. It immediately becomes clear that he is more focused on the egotistical euphoria of being right than on the causes and people he’s ostensibly fighting for, with his anti-Stalin polemics becoming the basis of his future attitudes and alliances. His lack of true concern for the working class is also evident in the mess of trash and vomit they leave behind for the hard-working Louis (Michael Jay Henry), the school’s janitor, to clean up after them.

Jeff Gonzalez and Charlie Hurtt. Photo by Nick Dove.

And so the groundwork is laid for Lev’s transformation in the following scenes – the second, in 1967, during a confrontational meeting with Curtis, an extremely intelligent and deserving Black student (also played by Hurtt, with a balance of sensitivity and strength) working two jobs to help support his parents while attending the predominantly white Columbia, requesting an extension for his paper, noting the lack of representation of Black writers in the course material and his own exclusion from study groups, presenting a cogent argument for greater inclusivity and against Lev’s increasingly demeaning behavior, and ultimately calling for student protests and boycotts of his class (with both actors employing the readily legible body language of covering their faces with their hands in a natural response of disbelief and consternation to the comments of the other).

The story closes with the third scene, in 1980, when Lev invites his old college comrade Daniel, whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years (now played by Henry), to his 25th-floor penthouse office, to congratulate the teacher on his brilliant best-selling memoir (which he recently published, at the age of 57 – a kind of “Jewish Roots” to give his grandchildren an awareness of their family history), and to make a surprising request of him. Their meeting triggers a more mature and tempered retrospective discussion of the separate paths they chose, explanations of why Lev went in the direction he did, and long-running fundamental disagreements over ideology and a bureaucratic system that doesn’t work, with an unexpected conclusion that stirs up Lev’s feelings of nostalgia for his youth.

Jeff Gonzalez and Michael Jay Henry. Photo by Nick Dove.

Three Scenes in the Life of a Trotskyist presents a thoroughly engrossing interweaving of partisan politics with the trajectory of one man’s life, both personal and professional, in the history of the 20th century, with committed performances, illuminating direction, and a theme that still resonates in our country’s divisive present. For those who’d like to delve further into the subject, you can attend a post-show talk-back on Sunday, March 3 – “A Conversation with the Gingold Theatrical Group” with Founding Artistic Director David Staller and playwright Andy Boyd – or Monday, March 4 – “Does Writing Plays Count As Praxis (And Other Revolutionary Questions),” featuring Boyd in conversation with Ben Firke, Aeneas Sagar Hemphill, Chas Libretto, Jesse Jae Hoon, and Alle Mims.

Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, without intermission.

Three Scenes in the Life of a Trotskyist plays through Sunday, March 17, 2024, at The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $25-50, plus fees), go online. All attendees and artists are required to be vaccinated for COVID-19; patrons are also required to wear masks when not eating or drinking.


  1. I wish I’d been there.

    I am writing from Sydney Australia about Deb Miller’s review of ‘Three scenes in the Life of a Trotskyist’ by Andy Boyd, 1 March 2024. A friend alerted me to this review a few days ago.

    And if I’d been able to do bit of time travelling from Sydney to New York I would have loved to have seen the play.

    In particular I was moved by the author’s remarks in the final para of her review ” … [the play] presents a thoroughly engrossing interweaving of partisan politics with the trajectory of one man’s life, both personal and professional …”.

    Simply FYI, I am the biographer of another “Trotskyist” personna, Michel Pablo, whose life trajectory from 1911 to 1996 was dramatically different to that of the main character in Andy Boyd’s play, although hopefully equally engrossing.

    “The Well-Dressed Revolutionary: the Odyssey of Michael Pablo” has been published recently by Resistance Books in London, and is available for consideration at:

    May be of interest,

    Hall Greenland, Sydney Australia


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