Ghost Lincoln, alien abductions, Edelweiss: We have no idea what happened in ‘Trump on Show’

The cast of a Cantonese opera about Donald Trump take a bow on opening night with the show’s playwright Edward Li Kui-ming. Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.
The cast of a Cantonese opera about Donald Trump take a bow on opening night with the show’s playwright Edward Li Kui-ming. Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.

If you, like us, were one of the many people bitterly disappointed to have missed out on the chance to see the sold-out Cantonese opera about Donald Trump, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered — at least, up to a point.

The opera began its four-day run on Friday night, and apparently its byzantine plot left some members of the audience, well, confused.

Edward Li Kui-ming, the playwright who penned the opera, noted on social media the high turnout among foreigners thanks to the international media attention the play had received from outlets like the BBC, Time, and Quartz, among others.[0]=68.ARBNjHSW_Z87AzMWM3c2aGaCd4iL3L0VCjc9VL5X6ki6GvXKayQwdntp6Amesb2L3vsOA4BTAj8d8Okka4fFUUw1osMVvOiaaIxZ6ZgEw2uqA_IVJuifUVJiOSkak_kpNVY8XGWn94U-PD_e6FPxl8-eLs3SMLXDzx9qyzwvu5CLwkksK_UyQ3gMKgCSZqlGVwuQmC-WtizNbPvDee2gtY2eQMpEgt4l4lEj46Z48h6N-Mvke5KvcUMsom9mp-DVt2ij1YHAhH5eBBjL61-vjCIhncJ6Hm7a4jGAUVep27Xx_BOJkj0K1UOG85SD2zPcyV-FDn6bYevW2O4rLKS3vnyJBQ&__tn__=-R

Thankfully, the English subtitles allowed a few international journalists and writers to live-tweet the Cantonese opera in its full, fever dream glory, leaving the rest of us to attempt to piece together the already-batshit-loco plot of the three-and-a-half hour play post by post.

Frankly, the whole thing sounds too crazy to make sense of, even to those who were there, so we’re not actually going to try. That said, here, with no particular claim to coherence or accuracy, are the second-hand highlights from Trump on Show:

The play opens shortly after Trump’s inauguration, with his daughter Ivanka discovering a suitcase marked “1972, China,” containing an English version of Chairman Mao’s famed The Little Red Book.

The play then flashes back to 1972, the year Richard Nixon first landed in Beijing to lay the groundwork for normalized US-China relations. Among Nixon’s delegation is a young Trump, who, in the telling of longtime journalist Ilaria Maria Sala (who deserves a prize for coming this close to making sense of the whole thing), steals a “glowing goblet.”

The goblet, it seems, is some kind of national treasure, prompting no less a personage than Chairman Mao to remark, in one of the great understatements (not to mention examples of needless, on-the-nose exposition) of all time: “This boy will go far and be an enemy of China.”

Trump goes on to meet with the first-ever premier of China, Zhou Enlai, confiding that he has a long-lost brother named “Chuan Pu” — the Mandarin pronunciation of Trump — in Kaifeng, a city in Henan province, who was a fighter in a war and got lost. (Trump — and his apparent identical twin, presumably — would have been about 7 at the end of the Korean War, and if, unlike Trump himself, Chuan Pu didn’t manage to dodge the Vietnam draft, he would have been very lost indeed to end up in a city about 2,000 kilometers from the Vietnamese border. But wait a minute, why are we trying to apply logic to this?).

The play cuts to Kaifeng, where Chuan Pu is a lowly crematorium worker tasked with cremating Liu Shaoqi, the first vice chairman of the Communist party of China and then the third-most powerful man in the country, behind Mao and Zhou. But before Chuan Pu gets about to his work, a musical number: Edelweiss from The Sound of Music.

Trump's long-lost twin brother Chuan Pu in the Cantonese opera Trump On Show. Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.
Trump’s long-lost twin brother Chuan Pu in the Cantonese opera Trump On Show. Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.

The show then fast-forwards to the present day, where Trump is prepping for another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Washington. (In case you, like us, were still wondering “what the hell happened to that goblet?” — well, Trump still has it, and it may or may not be the source of his incredible powers of sleaze!)

Oh, and remember Chuan Pu? Well by a happy coincidence, he’s in Washington too, looking for his long-lost brother. He meets Ivanka, but the family reunion is interrupted by the appearance of Trump’s bodyguard, who announces, in what should come as a surprise to no one at this point, that the 45th President of the United States has just been abducted by aliens!

With the Kims in town ready for the summit, Ivanka and co decide to disguise Chuan Pu as The Donald. (By God, it’s just crazy enough to work!)

Ivanka Trump with her dad, or is it her uncle Chuan Pu? Who knows? Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.
Ivanka Trump with her dad. Or is it her uncle Chuan Pu? Who knows? Who even cares at this point? Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.


The play also features jokes about telecommunications giant Huawei (“Cell phone technology is a battlefield!”), a gag featuring a mostly empty pack of Panda-brand cigarettes (“I’m giving you two Pandas!”), and a joke that’s simultaneously an affirmation of the one-China policy and a solid burn on Taiwan (“There are still prostitutes in China — they all work in Taiwan!” Zing!).

Oh, and did we mention there’s a cameo appearance by the ghost of US President Abe Lincoln, who counsels Chuan Pu?

Chuan Pu with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.
Chuan Pu with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Photo via Facebook/Edward Li Kui-ming.

The play ends with Trump speaking to his long-lost brother via a video link from a spaceship and firing himself.

Annnnnd, scene.

Reactions to the play were, well, it’s hard to say.

One particularly scathing flash review on website Stand News by Ger Choi — vice principal of Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture’s Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity — described the play as “garbage,” and said she “felt as though it was written by a high school student who doesn’t understand history or politics, yet wants to make a political drama.”

Well, OK.

Meanwhile, journalist and author Louisa Lim, somewhat ambiguously, called the opera an “extraordinary production in every sense of the word,” though she also added: “I think I have Cantonese opera PTSD now.”

One person who was most definitely a fan was columnist and international relations scholar Simon Shen, who took to Instagram to proclaim the show “an excellent attempt to revitalize Cantonese opera,” which, to be fair, was part of playwright Li’s intent. Some audience members, meanwhile, took to social media to remark that a large number of audience members were “young people,” another stated aim of Li’s.

Since the debut, netizens have been leaving comments under Li’s social media posts with suggestions of which historical figure to adapt into musical form next.

Names suggested have included John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and even Alexander Hamilton, but if we might make a humble suggestion: why not do all three, at the same time? Hey, at this point, it wouldn’t even register as that weird.

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