City Garage mines comedy from a Greek tragedy exploring President Trump’s “aggrieved sense of martyrdom”

By Christina Campodonico

The cover illustration for Duncombe’s satirical play is only the start — the story finds Trump plagued by “dishonest” Blind Seers, taunted by archrival Hillaria, comforted by a Chorus of Deplorables and supported by Putinius, Czar of the Dark Empire.
Illustration by Paul Rubenstein

For some, Trump’s rise to the White House is the dawn of a new era. For others, it feels like the beginning of the end.

For City Garage production director Charles A. Duncombe, Trump’s ascendancy to power bears enough resemblance to classic Greek tragedy that he was inspired to write a satirical play.

Duncombe has been working
on “Trump Unbound,” which gets its first public reading on Monday night, since the morning after election night.

“I just felt a visceral need to respond. Immediately the image that came to my mind was Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy ‘Prometheus Bound,’” he says, referring to the play about a demigod who steals fire from the gods to give to humans and is brutally punished for the offense.

In Duncombe’s take on the mythology, Trump is chained to a rock and visited by his sorrowful family (Ivainia, Malignia, Erikus and Juniorius), plagued by a ‘dishonest’ media known as the Blind Seers, comforted by a Chorus of Deplorables, browbeaten by the Lost Republicans, taunted by his archrival Hillaria and supported by Putinius, Czar of the Dark Empire.

“I was just tickled by this idea of Trump bound to a rock and being tortured by the gods — meaning the establishment, the liberal elite and all the ‘unfair’ attacks,” says Duncombe. “It felt like a good way
to kind of enter into the bizarre events of the election cycle itself and then the strange temperament of the man.”

Throughout the 2016 election season, Duncombe was struck by Trump’s “aggrieved sense of martyrdom” and saw alignments between Prometheus and the reality star / business mogul turned presidential nominee.

“Prometheus is a demigod. Trump certainly seems to be a demigod in his own mind, a self-made demigod,” says Duncombe. “So that level of hubris and self-aggrandizement again is very much at the heart of Greek tragedy, because ultimately the gods are always punishing mankind for his pride and hubris, his arrogance — trying to contest the power of the gods over human fate — which is very much Donald’s rants and raves.”

He also thought that the collision of Greek tragedy and Donald Trump’s “larger than life” personality was the perfect combination for a satire.

“The great gravity and the seriousness of Greek tragedy is so basic, it’s so ritualistic, it’s almost like religious in character — to contrast that with the silliness of what’s said and the hubris of the hero, it just seemed like an immediate fit to me,” Duncombe says.

The play will probably undergo revisions as it receives feedback from staged readings like Monday’s, but Duncombe hopes it’s a starting point for reflection and conversation on our country’s current political state, just as the tragedies were for the Greeks.

“These were big civic celebrations,” says Duncombe. “These plays were ways that the community came together. They looked at their own stories. They looked at their own cultural attitudes and they tried to get a better understanding of who they [were], which is certainly a great contribution
that art can make.”

The free reading of “Trump Unbound” happens at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6, at City Garage theater in Bergamot Station Arts Center, Building T1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 453-9939 or visit citygarage.org.

christina@argonautnews.com