Theater refuses to back down over Trump depiction in ‘Julius Caesar’

Delta Air Lines and Bank of America are pulling their sponsorship of New York’s Public Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar,” which features a Donald Trump look-alike in the title role. (Photo: Joan Marcus/The Public Theater via AP)

Just two weeks after Kathy Griffin was widely criticized for posing with a decapitated plastic head that resembled President Trump, the Public Theater in New York City began to perform a scene in which a character that strongly resembles Trump is brutally killed. However, unlike Griffin, the Public Theater is refusing to apologize.

In its rendition of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that premiered Monday at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater but has been in previews since May, the title character is blond, wears a blue suit, owns a gold bathtub, and is even married to a woman with a Slavic accent. Caesar is stabbed to death by members of his own government who doubt his ability to lead their nation.

A storm of controversy ensued since last week when a clip of the death scene was widely circulated online. But the Public Theater sees no reason to apologize.

“The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of Julius Caesar,” the nonprofit theater group wrote in a statement on its website. “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.”

In the midst of sharp criticism online, both Delta Air Lines and Bank of America withdrew their support for the production. Unlike Delta, Bank of America plans to continue its relationship with the theater group through other productions, but spokeswoman Susan Atran told the New York Times that if Bank of America had known that the play was “intended to provoke and offend,” it would never have supported it.

Though Trump himself has not commented on the production, his son questioned its appropriateness on Twitter.

According to the Public Theater, the play was designed to get people talking.

“Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy,” it said. “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.”

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