What A Character
New York City: Magnet for thespians, comedians, seekers of the spotlight (that fickle space). The Big Apple bequeaths its guests and residents an endless gamut of theatrical entertainment.
Far-off from Broadway sensations on said spectrum stands underground comedy clubs and theaters the size of conference rooms, where the less-polished, less-extravagant magic happens.
Lake Highlands High School alumnus David Carl, class of 1999, often showcases his talent at People’s Improv Theater (The PIT), 2 miles and a dimension or three from, say, the Richard Rogers Theater (home to “Hamilton”) on that entertainment-venue gamut.
One-man shows or his mirthful standup act “100 impressions in 30 minutes” don’t pay like mainstream mediums, commercials or The Great White Way, Carl says, but passion outweighs pay. When called to such a craft, starting your own moving company, tutoring, bartending and occasional couch surfing is what one does to survive.
This lifestyle, lived by many a New York artist, is fun. It does, however, require tenacity and bravery that many could never muster.
After some early success in voiceover work and acting parts on soaps, Carl landed a role in the pioneering “Point Break LIVE!” — New York City audiences arrived early to audition for Point Break’s leading role, Johnny Utah, the character made famous by Keanu Reeves.
“Yes, they all knew every line, and every show had a new Keanu Reeves,” Carl says. “People really got into it.”
But it was not the wetsuit-clad star who most captivated audiences. Rather, the laughs and spontaneous applause went to Pappas, played in the movie “Point Break” by Gary Busey, portrayed in the show by Carl.
There was something exquisite about being Gary Busey, Carl realized.
Inspired by virtuosos from separate eras (William Shakespeare and Busey) Carl co-created, with fellow Rutgers University graduate Michole Biancosino, “David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet,” in which Carl plays Busey, portraying Hamlet.
It put Carl on the map, says Jack Bunning of Dallas’ Kitchen Dog Theater, where Carl used to work and attend productions.
“It was a breakout hit of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival … it received the Overall Excellence in Solo Performance award at Baruch College,” Bunning says, but a few of many accolades. At the world-renowned Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, Carl performed the one-man show 24 times.
It’s no easy feat, Carl says. “When you aren’t performing, you are on the street handing out fliers advertising the show, so you can get people to come see it.” He and his team (Biancosino and two producers) received five-star reviews in Edinburgh; and in summer 2016, he performed the play in Chicago.
Expressive, witty, sincere and pensive during conversation, Carl grew up in Lake Highlands — attended Moss Haven Elementary and Forest Meadow. He was a wild child, identifying most with the Muppet Gonzo, he says. His parents did not try to quell his enthusiasm or creativity, he says. Mom was a teacher. Dad was in tech but also came from a family of seven preachers. In fact, a church play put Carl onstage for the first time. It was a little scary, just enough to amp him up and enjoy himself.
Lake Highlands, he says, was the ideal environment to shape his ambitions. Theater teacher Nancy Poynter taught him to take acting seriously, whether comedic, dramatic, supporting or leading. “She treated us like adults, like we were professionals,” he says. “We all came out of [the class] better people.”
Johnson, for whom he worked at Kitchen Dog Theater, also ignited Carl’s interest in unconventional theater. Johnson welcomed high school drama classes to the theater’s productions; some experienced creating their own plays.
There was English teacher David Wood, too, he says, without whom he would not have learned to appreciate The Bard.
(Note: nearly every successful LHHS performance the Advocate interviews mentions Wood, who steadfastly supports students in whom he sees promise; clearly he leaves an impression on them). Shortly after the success of “Hamlet,” comedians were eyeing the political landscape, mouths watering, as a boisterous, reality TV show billionaire decided to run for president. Interestingly, Carl and Biancosino already had been brewing a Donald Trump/King Lear concept for another solo show.
Once Trump was on the campaign trail, parodying the man became practically pointless.
“Oh man, it was too easy — or perhaps too challenging. You had to be crazier than him to get a laugh,” Carl says.
“Trump Lear” is set in the near future. Carl plays Carl Davis, a solo artist who receives critical acclaim for playing Donald Trump performing King Lear. Trump jails the fictional thespian and forces him to perform this paradoxical play, which “Davis” does, as the president’s reaction determines his prisoner’s punishment.
The show is a mix of comedy and theater, Carl says. It is about free speech at its heart. And it’s hilarious, darkly. “Count on a upsettingly uncanny performance,” writes Time Out New York magazine. The New York Times calls it, “Quite damning.”
Are similarities between Donald Trump and Shakespeare’s mad King Lear that obvious? Actually, they are not as comparable as one might imagine.
“Lear has this vulnerability,” Carl says. “He comprehends and asks for help when he makes a mistake. I like the idea of seeing a vulnerability in Trump.”
Carl brought “Trump Lear” to the Kitchen Dog Theater last year. It is still running in New York City at the PIT and touring American cities. Visit trumplear.com for tour dates and more information.