NYC Politics is fast becoming the hottest topic in town and now The Public Theater has joined the ranks of The “Get Donald Trump Media” with its latest incarnation of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park, which ran from May 23, 2017 until June 18, 2017. From Kathy Griffin holding a likeness of his severed head in an ISIS inspired photo shoot, to Stephen Colbert using a homophobic slur against the President in a long anti-Trump rant and now to a Bernie Sanders supporter shooting at Republican congressmen at a baseball practice in Virginia. President Trump does not seem to be able to catch a break in NYC, despite it actually being his hometown since childhood. The Trumpmeister extraordinaire probably did not realize how vicious and vindictive modern American politics can be, especially now in New York City.
Producer Oskar Eustis’s Poor Taste in Depicting President Trump Murdered as Julius Caesar
Even before Donald Trump ever thought about running for President, SNL and other satire filled programs have targeted him because his power and signature bombast delivery coupled with his unmistakable demeanor, makes it a fairly easy impersonation of his traits. High with the current political landscape as its backdrop, it’s no wonder that the left-leaning Public Theater decided to throw oil on the proverbial political fire by depicting President Trump as Julius Caesar in this summer’s version of Shakespeare In The Park. It is the scene where Caesar, dressed as President Trump, is killed by his own henchmen that is causing the most uproar. With the political climate being what it is today, it is understandable that producer Oskar Eustis wanted to create a controversial play, but Julius Caesar has a very bloody, and for some, disturbing murder scene. So, by making the main character to look like the current President of the United States, it appears that Eustis and the Public Theater were certainly looking to pander to Liberal elites and cause outrage from conservatives.
Producer Eustis could have been more sensitive about the topic and could have followed in the footsteps of Rob Melrose who in 2012 produced an Obama-inspired production of Julius Caesar but chose to let the audience make their own connections. “We wanted to make sure audiences could make the Obama connection if they wanted to — or could ignore the connections if they only wanted to live inside in the circumstances of Shakespeare’s play.” Rob Melrose knew that if he made it obvious that the then President of the United States was the protagonist of the play some audience members would be offended by seeing the leader of the free world being murdered live on stage. However, Eustis had no such control and instead made the Trump connections obvious by giving Gregg Henry, who played Julius Caesar in the production, an overly long tie and and making Calpurnia (Caesar’s wife) speak with a Slovenian accent. In an attempt to make the play a little less serious Eustis added some of comedy, which is not typical of a Julius Caesar staging, but it was still not enough to offset the criticism of the play that it encourages attacks on politicians, especially poor timing during the recent attacks.
Corporate Sponsors Pull Funding from The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park Due to Negative Feedback
Since the show opened for previews on May 23, 2017, it received plenty of negative feedback from angry Trump supporters. So much so that on June 11, 2017 New York’s Public Theater lost financial support from two of its high-profile donors. Delta Airlines was the first to go stating that “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.” Hours later Bank of America withdrew financial support from the production of Julius Caesar but did not completely end their relationship with The Public Theater, which has lasted for 11 years. The following day American Express released a statement clarifying that their Public Theater sponsorship does not fund Shakespeare in the Park nor does it condone it. Regardless of the negative responses The Public Theater stood firmly behind Eustis and his production and said that they were ready for anything.
Poor Timing Of Events
The din of negative feedback was amplified after the congressional baseball shooting that took place in Alexandria, Virginia on June 18, 2017, right in the middle of Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Julius Caesar. After the shooting of a political figure, Republican governor Steve Scalise, many thought that The Public Theater and producer Eustis would, if not close the play, at least reconsider the role that the Trump-like actor played in the production. The Public Theater and Eustis stuck to their guns and refused to modify the play at all, citing artistic rights and decrying public sensitivity.
Julius Caesar’s Underlying Message Lost On Common Folk
The Public Theatre contends that the underlying the message that this show attempts to depict is that trying to control politics and history through violence has dire consequences. The show is not meant to encourage violence, it is meant to do actually do the complete opposite. The problem with the show is that many people will see at another level and not understand its underlying point; all they see is a man dressed as Trump being murdered and this is a very dangerous precedent for Eustis and The Public Theater to set. Can art effectively become political hate speech without any consequences? Maybe this is the show Eustis should have put on. This ethics of putting on this kind of show is a question for many people in the theater industry following this big misstep by The Public. No word yet if Eustis or The Public Theater will be prosecuted for treason if someone attempts to actually carry out their depiction of events, but we do not expect to see Eustis’s next production to include Hillary Clinton as Lady Macbeth, because it seems that it would meet Eustis’s beliefs and would not pander to his liberal followers.
The Macbeth lines could read:
Why did you bring these emails from the place?
The Russians must lie there. Go carry them, and smear thy Trump
The sleepy Comey with blood.
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