Actors lament plight of homeless outside church

A group of people gathered around a performance in Trinity Square.
Actor Walter Borden plays King Lear at Toronto’s Homeless Memorial outside Holy Trinity, Trinity Square. At right, he is joined by Michael Bennett Leroux (centre) and Peyton LeBarr.
 on April 1, 2018
Michael Hudson

King Lear comes to public square

Holy Trinity, Trinity Square’s monthly observance for Toronto’s homeless on Feb. 13 included a novel component: a performance based on Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear.

The bard’s words stretched across the centuries as three seasoned actors took to the chilly public square beside the downtown church and raised a call to action for the homeless. They performed “Too Little Care,” a short dramatic piece based on the passage where, turned out in a raging storm, the mentally deteriorating old king has a sudden epiphany. He acknowledges the pitiful circumstances of the dispossessed and calls complacency to account.

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en

Too little care of this!”

Venerable actor and lifelong social activist Walter Borden played Lear, with Michael Bennett Leroux and Peyton LeBarr in supporting roles. Encouraged to become a chorus, onlookers chanted, “Oh I have ta’en too little care of this!”

“Any thinking, empathetic, sympathetic person could make that same statement about the homeless today,” said Mr. Borden, who recently played Lear in a production that portrayed him as having a hallucinatory dementia. “Society as a whole, and the individuals who make it up, have definitely taken too little care of this.”

The performance at the Toronto Homeless Memorial, located outside the church, was deliberately planned for the winter, explained Kate Werneburg, an actor who wrote and directed Too Little Care and designed it to speak to a deaf-eared and complacent society.

“It became clear the city was not prepared to respond appropriately to the needs underhoused people would have in the extreme cold,” said Ms. Werneburg, the church’s volunteer co-ordinator. “We wanted people who are also experiencing dispossession to feel seen and recognized.”

When Ms. Werneburg herself played Lear back in theatre school, her director told her no acting was required to perform this passage, saying “All you need to do is think about everyone who at this very moment is sleeping on a subway grate on Yonge Street. What have you done about that today?”


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