Students reenact Moscow Trials

In Campus News, News

The Cal State Fullerton Division of Politics, Administration and Justice is hosting a reenactment of the Moscow Show Trials conducted in the 1930s, performed by criminal justice students for the first time in 10 years, Tuesday and May 8 at University Hall Room 252.

Professor Jay Wachtel is in charge of the production, which is a criminal justice elective.

Wachtel said the class is about Russian criminal justice and is one of the electives in the department that has a variable topic each year.

The last time this production was performed was in 2002.

Wachtel said he has no previous directing experience outside of the last time this class has performed.

“I do a lot of writing (in the class),” Wachtel said. “This is only the second time we’ve run it in 10 years because it’s a small class, and it’s a very expensive class to run.”

The group practiced the performance on the night of April 24. While the actors practice their lines on stage, Wachtel writes notes for each student and spends several minutes before each practice going over acting tips and stage directions.

The reenactment provides details on the early days of Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge, when many high-ranked Soviet leaders and agents were accused and forced to confess on charges of treason.

Wachtel wrote the script himself, which he said was an accurate account of the events as they happened, even down to the individual lines.

“I have the actual transcripts to the show trials — there were three of them,” Wachtel said. “They were transcribed in English by the Soviet government and the dialogue here is authentic. It’s basically verbatim with just a few words changed because sometimes Russian doesn’t translate into English very well.”

Although in the play the trials have all been condensed into one, they actually took place over a three-year period.

Many people who had helped overthrow the previous Russian government and instituted communism were betrayed and accused of attempting to assassinate Stalin and the overthrow of the Soviet government.

“To our ears they sound almost bizarre,” Wachtel said. “They just (seem) evil, but that was the tether of the times.”

Students said when they signed up for the class, they had no idea that it would involve any acting.

Shane Lundy, a criminal justice major, said before this he’d only done a play in his church when he was 7, and that this is his first acting experience since then.

“I hope this place is packed,” Lundy said, when asked if he was looking forward to the performance. “I think I ordered, personally, like 10 seats.”

Kevin Wright, another criminal justice major, who plays the infamous Leon Trotsky, said theater production like this was different from what he was used to.

“I do have acting experience, but it was a while back ago, so it’s kind of hard to brush up those roots again,” Wright said. “I’ve done a commercial, but in a play it’s over-exaggerated so the audience gets the point. It’s nothing I can’t handle, though.”

Trotsky is known for being Stalin’s political rival who lost the Soviet power struggle after Lenin’s death and was exiled to Mexico, where he was found by Soviet police and shot.

Taylor Davis, 23, a grad student assistant for the class and stage manager for the production, said the class is divided into two parts.

“The first four or five weeks, they learn Russian history,” Davis said. “The latter 12 weeks are the play.”

Lundy said the class has been very informative, especially in conveying the parts of Russian history that corresponded with the characters they had to represent.

“It’s something I didn’t expect,” he said.

Yachi Dunkle, 22, said she took the class because it offered something out of the ordinary.

“I thought it was interesting because it was Russian justice,” Dunkle said. “We don’t really have other classes like that.”

Though it seems none of the students were aware of the performance side when they signed up, all of them are prepared to give their best on the nights of the show.

The April 24 rehearsal was their last practice before the performances.

The doors open at 8 p.m. on performance nights. More information can be found at

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