Trump Lear

Last Saturday, LES360 had the pleasure of watching Trump Lear at Under St. Mark’s Theater in the Lower East Village. Starring David Carl, this one-man comedy features a man named Carl David (ironic huh?), who gains fame by depicting Donald Trump performing a solo show of King Lear. The actor and impersonator is being held without bail for these performances. In order to avoid execution, Carl David must perform the Shakespearian play for his biggest critic, which happens to be President Trump himself. Viewing the performance remotely from a live and public feed, Trump determines whether Carl lives or dies based on whether or not he likes the play. Working under strict time constraints with limited props (he pastes the headshots of past republican presidents on food condiments), this sixty-minute play is uproariously hilarious as Carl David tries to appease his disgruntled and oftentimes nonplussed, audience member without offending him.

LES360 spoke to audience members after the show to get their take on it. Michael Martin, who was visiting from Australia, said that he enjoyed the play. “I felt it was quite insightful, almost quirky crazy, and highly entertaining. I think [David Carl] did a good job,” he stated. Brianna Redmount also found the show to be eye-opening. “It was good. [David] does very strange things and not what I expected, because we saw his Gary Busey Does Hamlet and it’s very different. It’s interesting how he grapples with if his art does anything or not.” Finally, Handel Low, who was not even aware of the show’s performance until that same day, said he was still processing it. “It worked on a bunch of levels for me…the one sequence when he just cycles through all these impressions one after the other, it was amazing to see you know? At the same time you’re trying to hear exactly what the soliloquy that he’s doing [is], you’re really appreciating the craft of impressions. He was very aware how — as what Trump would say– the idea that he should tread lightly on this thing.”

When asked about the play’s overall concept and structure, Michael Montalbano– who is the technical assistant for the play’s production– had this to say, “Ultimately, you do want to have a strong point of view in the art that you make, and you want to send a message, but that isn’t the entire thing. You want to explore human reactions, you want to explore the relationships and the way people respond to certain situations, and that is independent of politics and independent of the issues brought up in the play, and that is the beauty of theater.” Montalbano has worked with David Carl on a few productions, including the last play he did titled, David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet. He said that he is excited to be collaborating on the actor’s latest project and is proud to see how much his friend and colleague has grown as an artist. “It was cool to get to work with him on both projects and see the evolution of his work” he said.

David Carl is an actor, comedian, and impressionist who has been performing as Donald Trump in both New York City and Boston for a little over the past two years. Prior to that role, he played Gary Busey in two separate productions, Point Break LIVE! (which toured throughout the United States) and David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet. He has received many awards and accolades for his work and continues that streak with Trump Lear, a play that he co-created, wrote, and produced. LES360 had the pleasure of interviewing David backstage. Here’s what he had to say:

LES360: “So how long have you been acting?”

David: “I’ve been acting professionally for 11 years. Since I was 16. That’s when I knew I wanted to do it. I probably started when I was a kid, when I was in church musicals at like 9.”

LES360: “According to the playbill, you’ve been playing Trump for a few years. Since his election have you revamped the role at all?”

David: “So I started a show called Road to the White House. I booked it before we knew everyone that was going to be running, and then the deal with that show is I would do the debates before they happened, like, a couple days before they happened and play all of the candidates and the moderators. So I did that before every debate for two years and I did that until it got down to Hillary and Donald. Then my friend Jay and I would do Trump vs. Hillary and he would play Hillary. Then I did a show in Boston where the audience would debate me as Trump. So yeah, that’s the context of that. Post-election, I mean, it’s a different world. I mean I guess it’s the same guy but the way that you approach it is different. Before it was a possibility he could be president and now he is. So before I was doing lots of stuff that was like, day of. Like day of news, jokes about what just happened, and my director and I who created this with me were like, ‘let’s just do a play where we jump in the future,” so we don’t have to re-write it all the time…So that’s the biggest change, is the context. I guess still the same guy. The trick is heightening beyond him because he’s so out there…So that’s always a challenge every time I sit down and work on him.”

LES360: “So why did you decide to portray Donald Trump?”

David: “Well two years ago when I made the Road to the White House show, I knew I wanted to do a show about the election and just wherever it went. And that’s before he got in…Then he rose to the top and then you know I was like ‘well, now I know how to do it,’ and I feel the obligation to do something with this ability…I love making people laugh and I love entertaining people and I love performing, and sometimes you do a show just to make people laugh, just to put a smile on their face. Yeah, so this one I sort of back-stepped into and it felt silly not to do it.”

LES360: “How is this role different from the previous roles you’ve done? Is there anything more challenging about it or easier?”

David: “Um, yeah, I mean the biggest challenge is again going further than he goes. So like, I play Gary Busey a lot. I played Gary Busey professionally over 150 times in a bunch of states and two countries, and they’re almost the same person…he’s very impulsive and larger than life. But seemingly nowhere near [Trump]… I have nothing to compare Trump to.”

LES360: “It’s cool how you guys gave a bit of a disclaimer. For instance, the different questions Trump (a voiceover also done by David Carl) was asking, might be questions that people who are a little skeptical of the play might ask. It was cool having the subject of the play also be the biggest critic.”

David: “Yeah, we didn’t want to make a show just for people to watch torture scenes. Do you know what I mean? It could be much worse. We tried to make it so that it was like that weird mix of ‘oh I’m laughing at this,’ and then ‘wait that feels awful I shouldn’t laugh at this poor guy [Carl David].’ Right? As opposed to just 60 minutes of horror you know? We didn’t want it to flat line.”

LES360: “So what do you want audiences to take away from this play?”

David: “Well the play is about asking questions. I would say it’s a range of questions that I pose. It’s like a big fat ‘what if?’…because I don’t know. It’s true. I’m an artist, I don’t have answers, I would not be a good politician, but I think it’s important that while we have first amendment we use it, and use it as a place to ask questions in a safe place. I do think that the performing arts is a place for people of every background to sit together in a room and not be told what to think, but to be able to have a collective experience watching the same thing but then having their own experience with it. You know what I mean? And I really believe that. Maybe it’s not the most specific answer to your question but yeah, I don’t want to force any one message down anyone’s throat.”

LES360: “So do you have any other political figure or celebrity that you want to play in the future?”

David: “Bernie [Sanders] would be fun I think. We almost put him in the show…I don’t know. I think I want a break from politics after this show.” He laughs. “Just do something whimsical and light and fictional. It would be good to do something completely fictional that isn’t based on anything real.”

LES360: “Final question, where do you see yourself in your career five years from now?”

David: “Just creating my own work still. I really like making my own work. I don’t know where I’ll be in five years, but I’d like to be still creating work that excites me. That I get up every morning and I feel like I have to do it. That’s what I like to do… I’ve been an actor for 11 years and then started making my own stuff about five years ago. I’m happier if I’m writing and acting. It just makes me a happier person so I want to keep doing that.”

Starring David Carl and directed by Michole Biancosino, Trump Lear is playing at Under St Mark’s Theater at 94 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY, 10009. For tickets, visit

Alexis Collins

Alexis Collins is currently majoring in communications and minoring in business at the Pennsylvania State University. Earlier this year, she presented her rhetorical research at the James C. McCroskey and Virginia P. Richmond Undergraduate Scholars Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Alexis thoroughly enjoys news-writing and reporting and aspires to be broadcast journalist in the near future.

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