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Diane D’Aquila appears in Shakespeare in High Park’s productions of Twelfth Night and King Lear.

David Leyes/Globe and Mail Update

This summer's offerings at Shakespeare in High Park are King Lear and Twelfth Night. And while the veteran actress Diane D'Aquila plays Fabiana in Twelfth Night, she's getting more attention for her title role in King Lear – a crowning achievement, one might say. Not only that, unlike other actresses who played Lear as men or gender-blind, D'Aquila will portray him as a woman. The Globe and Mail spoke with her about High Park, female leaders and Lear in the age of Trump.

You were in the first-ever production of Shakespeare in High Park, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 35 years ago, is that correct?

It is. It was also Lucy Peacock's first job out of the National Theatre School. She was just a puppy. There's a picture of all us on site. We were so young.

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I've heard stories about the first season. The poison ivy, yes?

It was fraught with problems. Yes, the poison ivy. It was not an easy birth. But it was hugely successful, which is why they've maintained it all these years since.

All these years, without you. This is your first High Park production since 1983, is that right?

I've come back. Toronto is my home. I've been back as an audience member, but never as an actor. I've come full circle, from Titania to Lear.

Let's talk about Lear. When Glenda Jackson recently played Lear at the Old Vic, there were questions as to how she would look, as a woman playing a role written for a man. How did you approach the role yourself?

At first, I had a lot of questions myself. But when we began rehearsals, it became quite clear to me that if ever there was a part that screamed to be played by a woman, in this day and age, this is it. If you look at women like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, I'd like to know how you manage a day job like that while raising a family. It's overwhelming. Especially if you're talking about someone like Elizabeth I. As the Queen of England, it's the whole world they're taking on their shoulders. They have divine right from God. They are leaders of people – the crops would die if they weren't there. There would be no order in the world.

Sounds like you're comfortable in the role.

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I'm not finding it difficult at all. I'm not finding it hard to make the leap. I think people will find it very accessible. Elizabeth I often referred to herself as a king. That's why we didn't change it to Queen Lear. It's King Lear, and I'm playing it as a woman.

What kind of woman?

It's a woman who has had to take on a very male world. To do that, the perception, from the outside eye, is that she's probably a harsh woman. A strong woman. Not very feminine. All the things people say about woman in power.

All the things they said about Hillary Clinton, right?

Yes, exactly.

You were born in the United States, and retain your American citizenship. What's your take on the election of Donald Trump, who, it has been said, has some King Lear in him?

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Well, it's part of the democratic process. As Torontonians, we had to live through Rob Ford as mayor. We were jokes across the world. But we got through it, didn't we? And the States will recover from Trump. I have faith that this, too, will pass. I have to have that faith.

To quote Edgar in King Lear, "If you have the presence of mind to say, 'This is the worst,' then it's not the worst yet."

Well, yes. There's always something more frightening around the corner, isn't there? It isn't just the States, though. My fear isn't just Trump. My fear is the whole world is entering something like the decline of the Roman Empire. I really hope that's not what happens.

King Lear and Twelfth Night run to Sept. 3, in repertory. PWYC at gate; $25 premium reserved seat. High Park Amphitheatre, High Park, 1873 Bloor St. W., 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com.

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