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Albuquerque playwright lumps historical drama and pillow talk in ‘Trotsky & Frida’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky and Diego Rivera formed a torrid troika of politics and passion at La Casa Azul.

When Stalin expelled Trotsky from the Communist Party, Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova were forced to flee the Soviet Union and seek refuge in Europe.

Ama Zathura is Frida Kahlo and Peter Kierst is Leon Trotsky in “Trotsky & Frida.” (Courtesy of Michael Miller)

Ama Zathura is Frida Kahlo and Peter Kierst is Leon Trotsky in “Trotsky & Frida.” (Courtesy of Michael Miller)

In 1937, the Mexican government offered them asylum and they moved into Kahlo’s blue house in Mexico City.

While the lascivious result may have been predictable given Kahlo and Rivera’s well-documented sexual adventures, the unexpected side effects of the affair on everyone involved propels the story.

Albuquerque playwright Leonard Koel’s “Trotsky & Frida” combines historical drama with imagined pillow talk beginning next Sunday at the N4th Theater. The date marks the 98th anniversary of the October Russian Revolution.

When Lenin died in 1924, his vacancy left Trotsky as Joseph Stalin’s most dangerous rival. The brilliant Marxist theorist had led the Bolshevik army to victory, allowing Lenin to take power. But with Stalin’s rise, Trotsky and Sedova fled to Turkey, France, Norway and then Mexico, pursued by Stalin’s assassins.

“They came to live under the protection of Diego and Frida,” play director Harry Zimmerman said. “It was very dangerous at that time because the Mexican Communist Party was split between Trotsky and Stalin.”

Kahlo and Rivera already had established an open marriage. Fueled by volatile tempers and countless infidelities, their union was notoriously tumultuous.

“She was as bad as he was,” Zimmerman said, ” – men, women; she didn’t care.”

They divorced in 1939 only to remarry a year later.

With the arrival of Trotsky, Rivera imported San Francisco longshoremen to guard the house 24 hours a day.

“Trotsky was basically an intellectual,” Zimmerman said. “He’s the smartest guy in the room.”

In Trotsky’s eyes, neither Kahlo nor Rivera were well-grounded in Communist principles.

“Diego obviously didn’t like that,” Zimmerman said. “You don’t tell him what to do. Trotsky tells him to read up on communism and Lenin. He has no patience with that.”

Kahlo had long been attracted to older men; when she married Rivera he was 42 to her 22. Trotsky, then 58, was drawn to her passion.

“Diego becomes aware of (the affair) fairly early,” Zimmerman said. “I think what makes this different is who Trotsky is; he’s the leader of the international workers.”

Although Trotsky abhorred scandal, his relationship with Kahlo created one. She ended the affair after several months.

“They had to leave the house because of all the tension,” in 1938, Zimmerman said.

In 1940 a Stalinist agent plunged a pickaxe into Trotsky’s head.

“Their leaving the household because of the affair was the beginning of the end for Trotsky,” Zimmerman said.

The cast features Peter Kierst as the brilliant but frosty Trotsky; Ama Zathura plays the seductive and hard-drinking Kahlo. Miguel Martinez is the fiery Rivera; Ninette Mordaunt is Trotsky’s devoted wife and fellow revolutionary Natalia Sedova.

Zimmerman directed a staged reading of the play at the Vortex Theatre in 2014.

“People came out of the woodwork,” he said. “We had to turn people away.”

“The playwright is now 90 years old,” he added. “Most people are pushing daisies at 90 and this guy is still writing plays.”

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