“Russian Troll Farm” uses proven lies to promote Russophobic propaganda

By Lucy Komisar

If I was writing this review as a drama, where I could make things up, I would say “Congratulations to the Deep State (aka CIA & Co), which has moved from propaganda films into propaganda theater. However, Langley guys, you need some theatrical help. Your “Russian Troll Farm” at the Vineyard is the most crude, amateurish, nasty piece of pseudo-theatrical claptrap I have seen reviewing theater since 1998 when I became a member of the Drama Desk.”

Sarah Gancher, playwright.

And the first part of the review doesn’t even come from me, it’s from investigative journalists and a court judge who show that its story premise is fake fake fake. Sarah Gancher, who takes credit for this trash, is either not the brightest bulb or a witting intel operative. The first; she’s young, so perhaps that excuses her for being very naïve.

The story is that the Russian government set up something called the Internet Research Agency in the spring of 2016 to use their dastardly online skills to turn the U.S. election from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. They would do this by posting fabricated tweets on Twitter and bogus commentaries on Facebook. The play has four “posters” sitting at computers and bragging about how many invented tweets they have sent. In between, two of them have a brief loveless sexual interaction, one pulls up a t-shirt to reveal an ultra-fat stomach, and they vacuously betray one another. There’s also a boss with a dark past. But, hey, they are Russians.

Haskell King as Egor, John Lavelle as Steve, Christine Lahti as Ljuba, Renata Friedman as Masha and Hadi Tabbal as Nikolai, photo Carol Rosegg.

Back to the IRA. Part of “Russiagate,” the collection of anti-Trump plots orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and acolytes, was that a company in St. Petersburg had set up a system to post phony tweets to turn the election. When that canard was investigated by former NYTimes investigative journalist Jeff Gerth, among others, it was found (as published by the Columbia Journalism Review) to be fake. Egregiously fake. He reported that:

The Mueller report’s implication that the IRA was part of a “sweeping” Russian government meddling campaign in 2016 was later rebuked by a federal Judge handling an IRA-related case. The indictment of the IRA, the judge found, alleged “only private conduct by private actors” and “does not link the [IRA] to the Russian government.”

As for the extent of the troll farm’s activity, Mueller’s report cites a review by Twitter of tweets from accounts “associated with the IRA,” in the ten weeks before the 2016 election, which found that “approximately 8.4%” were “election related.” More than half of the impressions associated with the IRA’s Facebook ads came after the election.

Facebook submissions to Congress called the IRA’s targeting “relatively rudimentary,” with only a small fraction having anything to do with the election or specific geographic targets.

All the evidence is that this was a click-bait group that collected money from advertisers whose links were clicked by viewers. It’s an operation done around the world. Everybody knows about it except maybe Sarah Gancher.

The actual play is worse than I expected. Among the play’s IRA hackers:

Nikolai (Hadi Tabbal) declares, “We’re here saving the world.” He wants to exploit the racial divide, as if that weren’t being done by both sides in American politics. Would someone in the real dastardly IRA say that?

Egor (Haskell King) turns out to be pro-black as he learned about civil rights in a Soviet school. Would someone in the real dastardly IRA say that?

Hadi Tabbal as Nikolai and Renata Friedman as Masha, photo Carol Rosegg.

The rest of the characters have lesser motivations. Fat Steve (John Lavelle) bounces up and down on a chair. Is there a reason that he is flabby fat and the women are match-stick skinny? He will hit on Masha.

Masha (Renata Friedman), an unhappy person for no clear reason (boredom?), has a brief loveless sex encounter with Nikolai.

Ljuba (Christine Lahti), the gal in charge, declares I love Stalin. At the right moment Putin’s photo flashes. Hey, Langley, that is not subtle.

The actors perform as cartoon characters, but I can’t blame them considering the dialogue they have. Director Darko Tresniak doesn’t help. By the way, it is billed as a comedy, “Russian Troll Farm: a Workplace Comedy.” Nothing is funny! Do you count two guys with their pants down sitting on adjoining toilets? Yech!

Let’s drop the dumb script and get back to the propaganda, which is the reason for the play.

Christine Lahti as Ljuba, photo Carol Rosegg.

So here are some of the terrible tweets.

STEVE [TEXAS LONE STAR] Obama called me clinger. Hillary calls me deplorable. Terrorists call me infidel. Trump calls me American. Great shirt!

EGOR [blackantifa] Cops called elderly Black man the n-word before shooting him to death #KillerCops #BlackLivesMatter.

They will move an election.

Then there’s the DNC (Democratic National Committee) emails. Remember that the DNC/Podesta emails were obtained by some obviously nefarious character and proved that the DNC was screwing Bernie Sanders, sending money to Hillary that should have supported the party, etc. More a patriot than nefarious in my view.

IRA knows about this in advance, no explanation how. Ljuba says “Someone upstairs pulled the emergency cord. Trump’s numbers are tanking so we’re pulling out the big guns. Wikileaks is about to dump a BIG new bunch of DNC emails. We’ve got some tweets pre-written, look on your slack channel, load em up and send. …Someone upstairs likes #tunnelkids. They want you to draw connections between tunnelkids and these emails.”

Ljuba: “Our theme is crooked Hillary. The DNC rigged the primaries for Hillary, etc etc. It’s all building to the Democratic convention, that’s the dramaturgiya. So get to work!”

The tweets: Obama called me clinger, Hillary called me deplorable, Haskell King as Egor, John Lavelle as Steve, Renata Friedman as Masha and Hadi Tabbal as Nikolai, photo Carol Rosegg.

The DNC rigged primaries is all true. But this claim is presented as something the Russians promoted. Except everybody knows it is true! The Podesta emails proved it is true. It didn’t take any Russians to pump up the story.

EGOR [StayWoke88] If you out here screaming Black Lives Matter, and you voting for Hillary, you are a joke #killary #superpredator

Well, that’s a novel idea! (Joke) Untold thousands were tweeting the same.

Then Gancher attacks Julian Assange. STEVE [@moranrisin] Assange: WikiLeaks did not receive Clinton emails from Russian govt 

ASSANGE IS RIGHT. Who is paying Gancher to put down Assange?

AND EGOR [User #cfb0d237]: @RTcom: #Assange busts ‘Russian spy’ myth in exclusive interview

Scene from “Collateral Damage” video.

YES IT WAS A U.S. RUSSIAN SPY MYTH. But Gancher appears to be writing for the Deep State. Ironic, as I saw the play the day the Assange team was arguing in London against his extradition on the horrific charge of revealing U.S. war crimes. Sarah, have you seen the WikiLeaks U.S. helicopter kill video?

Back to Ljuba, who is supposed to be 71, but seems about 50. (Good actors and makeup artists can make players appear the age of the script.)

Her memory is that the KGB asked her to 1. Report her parents as traitors, which she did, 2. out lesbians at school. The first goes back to the Doctors’ Plot of Stalin’s days. Is this now relevant? Was lesbianism an issue in Russia 50 years ago? But hey let’s throw it in, too. Anything else you can say nasty about the Russians? She trains to be a KGB propaganda officer.

Then the real underlying plot reappears. Hillary in a projected video attacks aggression by Russia in Syria. Truth is Washington’s Islamic terrorist proxies attacked Syria, and the U.S. is still there, illegally, with a base to protect its stealing Syrian oil.

The Drama Desk needs a new category called “Best Propaganda.” Gancher would win hands down.

Russian Troll Farm.” Written by Sarah Gancher, directed by Darko Tresniak. Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, NYC. Runtime 1hr40min. Opened Feb 8, 2024; closes March 1, 2024. Also on NY Theatre Wire.


Post Script: I went to Gancher’s comments in an online interview and was gobsmacked at her delusions. She thinks Russia was responsible for Hunter Biden’s laptop! That has longtime been proved a lie and the laptop genuine. What is she smoking? She doesn’t like Elon Musk who she says “gutted” the movement “squashing misinformation,” ie: U.S. government attempts to get social media giants to delete what Washington doesn’t like. There are lawsuits about that now.

And then I saw this by Gancher: “Political Scientist Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the acclaimed author of Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know, believes that, although the IRA’s activities were a mere drop in the bucket of all online political activity in 2016, their posts were so well-targeted and strategic that they probably swung the election.”

Lightbulb! I had confronted Jamieson at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting Dec 9, 2018. 

She said that “the digital structures in which we work right now are uniquely able to magnify fear, and anger, and prejudice, and to find likeminded communities that will share that with each other in an environment in which there is no critical scrutiny, and which the norm is approving not disapproving.”

And, “I’m very concerned that the press in the United States did not handle the hacking well. It did not routinely source it back to the Russians, even after our intelligence community concluded that they were responsible as sources of Wikileaks that normalized it. It did not—in the rush to get it out there did not ask whether these stories were newsworthy in their own right. It created a scandal frame around things that in retrospect do not look scandalous. And it did not create a comparative frame comparing the Clinton to the Trump issues, when there were issues about both. So, it wasn’t a contrast frame; they were simply going for a Hillary Clinton story. There also was material taken significantly out of context, which the book argues, affected votes because it was taken out of context by reporters in two presidential debates.”

Intelligence report says we don’t really have any evidence.

It has been proved that is a sham. It wasn’t “our intelligence community,” it was the CIA director with a couple of intel staffers. The ICA (intelligence community) Background (ignore Deep State? strike through, the link works) to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Election” admits that judgments don’t imply they have any proof!!! Translation: they made it up!

So afterwards, I asked Jamieson what evidence she had for her claim. She said she didn’t need any. She knew!  (She also made it up!)

Poor Gancher depends on this Deep State-friendly dissembler for her evidence! Not sure if she deserves condemnation or sympathy. But, Sarah, if you read this, ask Jamieson for evidence. And let me know.


The Vineyard artistic director Sarah Stern writes: “In some ways, Russian Troll Farm is a companion piece to an earlier Vineyard show, Tina Satter’s Is This A Room (now HBO’s “Reality”), which dramatized the arrest of an American whistleblower who exposed Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Another lightbulb! That show was also fake. The “heroine,” Reality Winner, was a delusional translator (not the brightest bulb), a leaker, not a whistleblower. A whistleblower is someone who “blows the whistle” on an individual’s or institution’s abuses. She leaked an unverified document in the files of her employer, the National Security Agency, the spy operation where she was a translator, not an analyst. It accused Russia of targeting the 2016 elections. (Are we at the same story?) It had to be bad if even the NSA did not believe it and disregarded it, so she “leaked” the unverified document to an online media, “The Intercept.” And it was false. Do you think if a U.S. spy agency had something against Russia it would keep it secret, not leak it to favored journalists? But the play makes Reality a heroine. Actually, she was a fool. See my review.

Stern says, “That year, employees at the Internet Research Agency created over 50,000 fake accounts on Twitter and sent nearly 3 million tweets leading up to the election.” There is zero evidence presented for any of that. Or indication of what the tweets were about. Evidence in my review shows 8.5% of IRA tweets were about the election, half were after the election, and the rest click bait.

The Vineyard should avoid becoming known as a venue for Russophobic theater. Especially for discredited “Russia hacked the election” plays.

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One Response to "“Russian Troll Farm” uses proven lies to promote Russophobic propaganda"

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