MOSCOW In a new puppet show satire of Russia's presidential election, the only competition is in the mind of Vladimir Putin, as he fights the loss of his penis.
The Moscow Museum of Erotic Art's show, due to premiere on the eve of the election, lampoons the current prime minister's easy dominance of Russian politics, but also shows the former KGB spy fighting his demons and torn between tyranny and democracy.
"Putin doesn't compete with anyone but himself so we didn't have to make puppets of other politicians. They are nothing but a decoration," said Alexander Donskoy, founder of the museum and former mayor of the Arctic port of Arkhangelsk.
Putin, 59, is almost certain to win a six-year term as president in the March 4 election, though Russia's dominant leader is grappling with an urban protest movement that casts him as an authoritarian leader who is out of touch.
The play is based on Nikolai Gogol's short story The Nose, which tells the tale of an official whose nose leaves him one day to lead a life of its own.
In the museum's version of the play, Russia's "alpha-dog" leader loses his genitalia, becoming an impotent "anti-Putin" until he finally rediscovers them.
During his journey, Putin talks to himself, struggling with an inner conflict that reflects his own pre-Kremlin past as both KGB spy and adviser to one of Russia's liberal leaders.
"There is a constant dialogue between the authoritarian Putin, the tyrant, who has a constant erection, and the more democratic (anti-Putin), who shows no aggression, no eroticism, and has no penis," Donskoy said.
Fighting what he says is a country infected by conservatism, Donskoy angered the Kremlin last year when he put up a painting showing Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama comparing the sizes of their penises.
The play is brought to life by 19-year-old producer Oleg Vorontsov and three actors operating the two $1,500 puppets and a lamp similar to the one used by the Soviet-era KGB to light people's faces during interrogation.
"I am interested in which Putin we shall see after the election," said Donskoy, also a one-time businessman, with a chuckle.
"Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that he will be the authoritarian one."