by: Michael Shields
Trump Lear is an unflinchingly deep dive into the psyche of a man succumbing to madness and concurrently a hard-hitting, hilarious satirical take on the all out attack upon the First Amendment by the current administration…
King Lear, the tragedy written by William Shakespeare and first performed in the early 1600s, depicts the inexorable descent into madness of a king after he disposes his kingdom to two of his three increasingly unworthy daughters. The result of which was chaos and darkness for all. It is of little wonder, in today’s chaotic political landscape, that an artist would invoke such a Shakespearean classic as King Lear in order to craft a theatrical performance comprising of an uncanny impersonation of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. And this is exactly what comedian/actor/improviser David Carl does with Trump Lear, one of the most enjoyable, and deceivingly intense and profound, shows you will stumble upon among New York City’s overbrimming theater landscape.
Trump Lear is a one man show performed by David Carl that depicts an actor pushed to the brink of insanity by an authoritative bully. Carl, prior to donning the orange makeup and blonde nappy comb-over for his role in Trump Lear, could be found portraying Gary Busey in his standout, one-man Shakespeare comedy show, David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet (as well as the popular touring show, Point Break Live). It might seem an odd speciality to some, the ability to morph seamlessly into two of the most mystifying and enigmatic men on the face of the planet, but this is indeed where Carl excels and defiantly astonishes. While in both roles he is embodying an altogether erratic and unstable human being, the two shows vary considerably, as Carl’s Celebrity One Man Hamlet was more of a straight forward reprisal of Hamlet — if it were performed by Gary Busey — where the concept behind Trump Lear is far more involved.
Trump Lear is, at its heart, a play within a play. A strangely novel concept, forged by David Carl and his secret weapon, Co-Creator and Director Michole Biancosino, Trump Lear finds Carl’s character waking up in a dark room to the sound of President Trump’s voice, who he (and the audience) will never see. Carl, it turns out, has been arrested by the president for creating and performing the fictionally acclaimed Donald Trump’s One-Man King Lear as Performed by Carl David and the president is none too pleased. Carl is then forced by the commanding, snarky overlord to perform his parody show as the president watches remotely from a live, public feed. If Trump likes Carl and his show, Carl lives. If Trump doesn’t like Carl’s show, Carl dies.
Set in a dark future, where much of Trump’s wrath has already been incurred upon the world, the play presents the audience with a sort of crystal ball glimpse into what could be an entirely plausible future. Thankfully, the play also functions as a form of catharsis from the United States’ current political climate. As Carl tells it, “we liked the idea of setting it in the future because after doing topical Trump shows for twenty months, I realized the audience might find something slightly more removed from reality a little more palatable. People are slammed with Trump’s daily blunders from practically every angle, so why not add a dark futuristic comedy to the conversation?”
Poignantly, and undoubtedly purposefully, Trump Lear mirrors many of the thematics of Shakespeare’s potent and unforgettable tragedy. When King Lear himself goes mad, the turmoil in his mind parallels the chaos that has descended upon his kingdom. At the same time, however, it also provides him with important wisdom by reducing him to his bare humanity, stripped of all regal pretensions. This idea, that through a trying experience where one is forced to the brink of ruination, and in that process finds truth and a certain measure of understanding, permeates through Trump Lear, as Carl himself wrestles with keeping his composure (and his very life) while dealing with the president’s intimidation. King Lear is about political authority as much as it is about family dynamics, and these themes ripple throughout Trump Lear in tandem with subtle and shrewd inquiries about ego and the current war on the First Amendment and the Constitution by the Trump Administration. In this way, Trump Lear acts as a case study of a man overwrought by power and unstable in psyche. While troubling in its real life suggestions, Trump Lear is, due largely in part to Carl’s spot on yet outrageous Trump impersonation, decidedly fun. It’s a wild ride that is as hilarious of a time you can have at the theater.
David Carl is an incredibly talented performer. His physical comedy is only outmatched by his uncanny ability to impersonate hordes of characters and personalities. In fact, he is so capable in this capacity that he performs a show called 100 Impressions in 30 Minutes with David Carl, and many of these impersonations are shrewdly featured in Trump Lear. With its unique conceptual configuration Trump Lear’s seventy minute multimedia extravaganza transcends comedy and drama, and delves into bullish satire. While a comedic romp and flat out uproarious, Trump Lear feels weighty and important in its message. For in the shadow of the Trump administration that Americans now dwell under, there is something so powerful about calling out all the bullshit. It is performances such as Carl’s, and shows such as Trump Lear, that serve as the antidote to the scourge that is the Trump Presidency, and provide the art that is going to get us through this increasingly trying period in American history.