The Public Theater in New York’s Central Park is drawing criticism for featuring a Donald Trump-like character as Julius Caesar because Caesar is stabbed in the back and murdered by politicians during the play.
Now a major sponsor – Delta – has pulled out of the production, and some theater-goers have expressed shock at witnessing the assassination of a Trump-like character unfolding in the middle of a New York park.
Others have defended the theater’s right to alter Shakespeare to create a modern parable.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. In the Play, Caesar Is Dressed to Resemble Trump
There’s no mistaking it: Julius Caesar looks a lot like a certain controversial Republican president in this production.
Caesar is not wearing the garb of ancient Rome; he’s “in a business suit with an American flag pin, a long tie, and reddish-blond hair,” reports Fox News.
According to the Huffington Post, “Director Oskar Eustis replaces the Roman’s toga and crown for a business suit and golden haircut in a more modern retelling of the classic tragedy.”
Caesar’s wife has suspiciously Melania-like overtones in the play too: She “is swathed and swaddled in free-flowing silk, totters about in spike heels and speaks with a heavy Slavic accent,” reports Deadline.
Shakespeare’s play contains a scene in which other politicians stab Caesar in the back, and therein lies the controversy. Caesar “is murdered at the hands of conspirators led by his friends-turned-enemies, Cassius and Brutus.The stabbing is brutally realistic,” reports Deadline.
2. Some Observers Have Claimed the Play Showcases Violence Against the President
Some people who’ve seen the production think it goes too far: The staging of a presidential assassination in the middle of a prominent New York park.
“It’s just concerning we’re seeing more and more violent rhetoric towards our president in the form of the arts and Hollywood,” Chris Caulfield, a tourist to New York from Texas, told Fox News.
Laura Sheaffer, a sales manager at Salem Media, described the performance to Joe Piscopo on AM 970 THE ANSWER, saying, “The actor playing Caesar was dressed in a business suit, with a royal blue tie, hanging a couple inches below the belt line, with reddish-blonde hair — just like Trump. I always go to Shakespeare in the park, but I wasn’t expecting to see this.”
She added, “They had the full murder scene onstage, and blood was spewing everywhere out of his body. To be honest I thought it was shocking and distasteful. If this had happened to any other president — even as recently as Barack Obama or George W. Bush — it would not have flown. People would have been horrified. I mean it was the on-stage murder of the president of the United States.”
3. The Director Has Defended the Production, Saying It Is a ‘Warning Parable’
In a message posted to the Public Theater’s website, the director, Oskar Eustis says, “Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means To fight the tyrant does not meant imitating him.”
The play runs from May 23 through June 18 and is almost 2 hours long. There is a note on the theater’s website that says, “Julius Caesar contains the use of violence, nudity, live gunshot sounds, strobe, herbal cigarettes, haze and fog.”
In his lengthy note, Eustis says, “Julius Caesar is about how fragile democracy is. The institutions that we have grown up with, that we have inherited from the struggle of many generations of our ancestors, can be swept away in no time at all.”
Tickets for Shakespeare in the Park are free.
“When history is happening, when the ground is slipping away from under us and all that is solid melts into air, leadership is as transitory and flawed as the times,” wrote Eustis.
Eustis’ bio says, “Oskar Eustis has served as the Artistic Director of The Public Theater since 2005. He came to The Public from Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI where he served as Artistic Director from 1994 to 2005. Eustis served as Associate Artistic Director at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum from 1989-1994; and prior to that he was with the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco, serving as Resident Director and Dramaturg from 1981-1986 and Artistic Director from 1986-1989.”
According to the bio, “Eustis is currently a Professor of Dramatic Writing and Arts and Public Policy at New York University and has held professorships at UCLA, Middlebury College and Brown University, where he founded and chaired the Trinity Rep/Brown University Consortium for professional theater training.”
4. Delta Has Pulled Its Sponsorship From the Play
Delta has sponsored Shakespeare in the Park for years, but the airline has now pulled its sponsorship of the production because of the Trump comparisons.
“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” a Delta spokesperson told Deadline. “Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of The Public Theater effective immediately.”
According to The Hill, though, others have defended the play, with one theater-goer saying, “Art is provocative, theater is provocative. They’re meant to make us reflect and make us think, they’re not made to make us sit comfortably.”
5. The Controversy Comes as Other Artists’ Depictions of Trump’s Assassination Provoked Outrage
There have been other attempts to use violence against Trump as an artistic point, and they’ve been met with outrage.
Most infamously, comedienne Kathy Griffin was photographed holding a mask designed to look like the president’s bloody, severed head. After ensuing outrage, Griffin apologized but also accused Trump and his family of bullying her. She lost numerous performance gigs as a result.
In a video, singer Snoop Dogg shot a clown dressed to look like Donald Trump.
Trump weighed in on Twitter writing, “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!”