NEW YORK – A new, controversial adaptation of the play ‘Julius Caesar’, which opened at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, on June 12, after being in previews for three weeks – as part of the free annual festival ‘Shakespeare in the Park’, will prove costly to New York’s Public Theater as two big sponsors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, pulled out their sponsorship, citing their disagreement of the brutal assassination of a Donald Trump-like character, who plays the title role.
“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,” Delta said in a statement on Sunday night. “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.”
Bank of America had this to say: “The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend. Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”
The backing out by the two companies is not going to dent public support and enthusiasm for the play, however. Crowds have only gotten larger for tickets to the picturesque, open-air venue which can seat 1,872 people, and from which one can see Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle. Tickets are free for the festival, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The play, directed by Oskar Eustis, who is also the artistic director of the Public Theater, has been lambasted by right wing media outlets. However, another version of ‘Julius Caesar’, in 2013, staged by Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, along with the Actors Company Theatre – in which nobody had any doubts that it was an Obama-like character playing the role, didn’t stir any controversy. There were even ‘Occupy Rome’ signs strewn about on stage, to drive home the point.
However, we live in a different time now.
Fox News didn’t see any artistic merit in the play, and reported that it “appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities.” The conservative news outlet Breitbart ran an article with the headline “”Trump’ Stabbed to Death in Central Park Performance of ‘Julius Caesar.'”
Jesse Green of The New York Times acknowledged that Trump trolling was at a “startling new level.”
Green wrote of the ‘vividly staged production’: “Its depiction of a petulant, blondish Caesar in a blue suit, complete with gold bathtub and a pouty Slavic wife, takes onstage Trump-trolling to a startling new level.”
Eustis, however, said in a note he posted online that the intention of the play is not to depict the ‘assassination’ of Trump, but instead the focus was on democracy itself: “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 mean imitating him,” he wrote.
For the record, Eustis has only added three words to the script, modifying one line to: “If Caesar had stabbed their mothers on Fifth Avenue, they would have done no less.”
Esquire, in an article, noted that the play ‘Julius Caesar’ has been performed thousands of times in the last 400-something years starring everyone from John Wilkes Booth to Denzel Washington. In 1937, Orson Welles famously dressed his characters in Nazi uniforms and drew parallels between Caesar and Fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
However, there is something decidedly disturbing about the assassination of the Trump-like character in this adaptation.
CNN noted audience reaction in previews: “Their reaction to the Trump-like character subsided as the audience assumedly skipped ahead to the scene when they would witness (spoiler alert!) the gory assassination of this blonde, boisterous, Trumpian emperor.”
And the play does depict a more than necessary violence too: “the conspirators tear Caesar from his podium and stab him repeatedly until he’s left sprawled on stage in a mess of bloodstained clothes. Caesar’s friend, Brutus, delivers the final blow that ends his life.”
Slate noted that the ancient Greeks, who never showed violence on stage, still made the theater the place where the most controversial subjects of their time could be dramatized, debated, and discussed.
And, perhaps, that’s the reason the new play is disturbing. To show the ‘assassination’ of the incumbent President of the United States of America, is shocking, and really, unnecessary. It’s in poor taste.
There already are a lot of racist attacks happening all over the country, on a daily basis, against people of color, based on their looks and religion.
Question to be asked is, how would critics respond to a play that depicts supporters of President Trump killing immigrants from India, based on the color of their skin?