“Julius Caesar” Production Opens to Huge Ovation Despite Trump Controversy
Friends, Americans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to explain another Trump vs. Art controversy, not to praise it.
The Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has been in preview at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park for about a month but opened this week to controversy.
Controversy plagues this production, directed by Oskar Eustis, because of the purposeful Trump-inspired adaption of this Shakespeare tragedy.
The President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., took to Twitter this week to ask if the show was produced with taxpayers’ money. Also, multiple corporate donors pulled their financial support as backlash against the production.
As in the past, the Shakespearean tragedy follows the story of Julius Caesar in the short time leading up to his death, when he was stabbed in the back by Brutus, a conspirator he had considered a friend.
Caesar’s assassination leads to the collapse of Rome and has often been produced as a cautionary tale of misplaced patriotism.
This production of Julius Caesar has garnered controversy because of its very obvious intent for the show to simultaneously star Caesar and President Trump. Shakespeare’s words remain untouched, with little to nothing cut from his script, and yet the transition to 2017 is easy to believe.
The lead actor, Gregg Henry, is fitted with a blonde hairstyle verging on a comb-over. Tina Benko, starring as Caesar’s wife Calpurnia, plays her role with a Slavic impression.
The costumes are modernized to include trench-coats, suits and ties, Anonymous masks, and pussy hats.
The sets include modern office buildings and a gold gilded tub that Caesar reclines in. Phones and other modern technology are used as props to help bring Shakespeare’s words into the present.
“Who is it in the press that calls on me?” asks Caesar, meaning a mob to Shakespeare’s original audience, but the line is not terribly far off from some of President Trump’s actual tweets complaining about the media.
For all of the controversy, this production was well-reviewed by the media including The New York Times for being, “a deeply democratic offering, befitting both the Public [Theater] and the public — and the times.” The New York Times wrote in its review of the production.
“If in achieving that goal it flirts a little with the violent impulses it otherwise hopes to contain, and risks arousing pro-Trump backlash, that’s unfortunate but forgivable.”
Whether it is forgivable enough to win back a number of its corporate donors who have pulled their financial support such as Delta Air Lines and Bank of America is yet to be seen.
The common argument against this production of Julius Caesar is that it is inappropriate to show a Trump-like-figure being stabbed.
Comedian Kathy Griffin learned the dangers of depicting violence against President Trump recently when she was dropped from hosting the end of year bash by CNN.
Its worth noting that in 2012 when this same show was performed with a black man dressed to represent President Obama, it did not spark nearly as much controversy, nor did their donors, such as Delta Air Lines, pull their financial support. In fact, that production was deemed “riveting” by the American Conservative, and caused no backlash.
Those in support of the Public Theater’s Trump-esque production have taken to Twitter to remind others of the dangers of artistic censorship while also asking for people to remember the message of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which has never been one that applauds Caesar’s murderers.
Oskar Eustis, the director of The Public Theater’s controversial production explained that his vision for the show’s morals was not celebrating Caesar’s assassination.
“Those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic methods pay a terrible price and destroy their republic,” said Eustis.
The Public Theater recently released a statement through their Twitter account thanking those supporters for their backing.
The statement released on Twitter said in part that the company is “deeply grateful for the outpouring of support we have received around our free production of JULIUS CAESAR. We continue to be guided by our values of openness, inclusion, and the conviction that in drama and democracy alike, the clash of opposing views leads to truth. The Public Theater has always been—and will remain—of, by, and for the people.”
The Public Theater said on their website that it “stands completely behind our production of JULIUS CAESAR. We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values.”
“We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of JULIUS CAESAR in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park,” the statement said.
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