Saturday 17 March 2018

This New York production of Julius Caesar has come under fire for references to Donald Trump

Some big companies have pulled their sponsorship of the theatre in response.

By Prudence Wade

A theatre production of Julius Caesar staged in Central Park has refused to bow to backlash over the portrayal of a Donald Trump-like dictator who gets knifed to death onstage.

The references to Trump in the free production aren’t exactly subtle: the main character looks remarkably like the president and has a wife with a Slavic accent.

However, the text remains unchanged from Shakespeare’s 400-year-old play, and Trump’s name is not mentioned.

The production is staged by the Public Theatre. Artistic director Oskar Eustis has defended the production, saying: “Anyone seeing our production of Julius Caesar will realise it in no way advocates violence towards anyone.”

Performances started days before comedian Kathy Griffin was criticised for posing for a photograph in which she gripped a bloodied rendering of Trump’s head.


The nonprofit Public Theatre said in a statement: “We recognise 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 theatre; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy.”

Appearing before Monday night’s performance, director Eustis said that neither Shakespeare nor the Public Theatre could “possibly advocate violence as a solution to political problems, and certainly not assassination”.

The backlash has been such that some big names have pulled their sponsorship of the theatre, including Delta Air Lines and Bank of America.

American Express has distanced itself from the production, saying that its sponsorship of the Public Theatre doesn’t fund this particular production.

Delta said that the graphic staging of Julius Caesar does not reflect its values and “crossed the line on the standards of good taste”.

Two of Trump’s sons have taken to Twitter to condemn the play and applaud companies that have pulled its sponsorship.

However, arts professor at New York University Laurence Maslon thinks any loss of funding will be compensated for by donations from people worried about the apparent threat to artistic freedom.

Other people throwing their support behind the theatre include the city’s comptroller Scott Stringer, who wrote letters to the heads of Delta and Bank of America, arguing that dropping their support “sends the wrong message”.

He writes: “Art matters. The First Amendment matters. Expression matters.” He enclosed copies of the play with the letters.

“I hope you enjoy it — it is a classic, in any age,” he wrote.

The play’s run ends on Sunday.

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