ARTS · Theatre March 17th, 2018

By

Shakespeare’s King Lear updated in comedy featuring Donald Trump

Entertaining musical take on the tragedy—and the billionaire

Donald Trump as King Lear
GUESS WHO is the modern King Lear? Why it's the self-acclaimed "world's greatest businessman" in the North Toronto Players production of Lear Incorporated.

Lear Incorporated, Michael Harms and Barbara Scheffler, directed by Michael Harms, running at Papermill Theatre to March 25.

If the various television satires on the ongoing travails of Donald Trump are getting a bit tiresome, you can get a fresh take on the bizarre character in a musical comedy with a limited run at Papermill Theatre, Todmorden Mills.

The brilliant idea of the North Toronto Players is to update the tragedy of King Lear by replacing the king with a figure based on Donald J. Trump.

I’d never before heard of anyone connecting the self-aggrandizing billionaire with Shakespeare’s own vainglorious ruler. But, in the Lear Incorporated script by NTP stalwarts Michael Harms and Barbara Scheffler, it works really well.

Especially in the first half, when Trump, I mean Lear (Harms), splits up his conglomerate of hotels among his daughters by staging a contest to see who can best express their love for him. Daughters Goneril (Scheffler) and Regan (Laurie Hurst) go way over the top, literally singing his praises, while Cordelia demurs. (Yes, the original Shakespearean daughters are employed, rather than characters based on Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., to my disappointment — but for good dramatic reason, I suppose.)

Lear, of course, has his comeuppance when the two winning daughters kick him and his entourage out of their inherited hotels and he’s left to roam Central Park in the rain, daring the winds to blow until their cheeks crack, as Shakespeare put it. His only companions are a putative fool and the similarly homeless and addled father-son team of Gloucester and Edgar.

The second half sags a bit as the play struggles to maintain the parallels between the original play and the modern figures. Cordelia arrives with a force of investors from France to take the company back from the sisters and, frankly, I couldn’t follow the boardroom maneuvres.

However, it’s still all fun. The highlight of the second act is actually a throwaway scene when Gloucester’s hilariously wicked son Edmund (Tomas Ketchum) beds both of the wicked daughters together, with the threesome standing centrestage holding up a blanket.

And the singing is marvellous. The music is mainly from Gilbert and Sullivan, with a few familiar tunes from classical composers like Bizet, Rossini and Verdi thrown in, sporting new, extremely witty lyrics from Harms. The performances are strong and assured, especially from the lead cast. But the chorus, described in the playbill as “traders, toadies, members of the board and European investors,” is also powerful, when singing en masse or counterpoint, weaving their ways around Papermill’s small stage to the tasteful piano accompaniment of John Ricciardelli.

If I had any criticism, it would be that the musical might have worked a little better by cutting out a few of the voices. At times, the number of people singing and parading on stage seems to outnumber the audience. And I couldn’t always make out what they were on about. A little more clarity with fewer voices might have helped at those times.

But it seems ungrateful to nitpick. The North Toronto Players have been hailed as a paragon of what a community theatre troupe can achieve and this thoroughly entertaining and impressive evening from a talented cast of local people can only help cement this reputation.

The musical comedy Lear Incorporated continues this weekend and next with a total of seven evening and matinee performances.