Shakespeare in the Park is a free annual event at Central Park in NYC. This year, however, the summer arts program took a decidedly political term when a Trump look-alike (actor Gregg Henry) was cast in the lead role of Julius Caesar in the play of the same name. The play’s creators even gave the faux Trump a wife with a Slavic accent.
So what’s the problem with casting a dark-business-suit-and-long-red-tie-wearing Trump look-alike as the lead in”Julius Caesar”? Because Caesar meets a grim end in the third act, getting violently stabbed to death by his critics. In this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park adaptation of the iconic Shakespeare play, those critics are made up of women and minorities. And while nobody ever mentions Donald Trump by name, the similarities between Caesar and the POTUS are glaringly obvious.
In addition to the brutal assassination scene, “Julius Caesar” also features a nude scene (the decidedly Trump-like Caesar steps nude from a bathtub). As NBCNews reports, not everyone is happy with the decision to cast a Trump-like Caesar in the wildly popular play showing at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. The timing of the production was also unfortunate, with the first show taking place in late May, just prior to the now-infamous Kathy Griffin incident involving a “bloody” Trump mask.
Shakespeare in the Park and Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis issued a statement claiming that, despite the similarities between Trump and the “Julius Caesar” character, “anyone seeing our production of ‘Julius Caesar’ will realize it in no way advocates violence towards anyone.”
According to Eustice, while Caesar is stabbed to death in the play (and happens to closely resemble Trump in this year’s adaptation), the true message of the Shakespeare classic is to “make the opposite point: Those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic methods pay a terrible price and destroy their Republic. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.”
As those familiar with Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” already know, the play is a fictionalized account of Julius Caesar’s life. Caesar, a Roman leader, comes to a bad end when he is assassinated by fellow politicians fearful of his growing power and tyranny. The original play is set in ancient Roman times, but it is not uncommon for directors to modernize their adaptations of the play.
Indeed, some Shakespeare in the Park fans seemed nothing less than thrilled about the artistic license director Eusctice exercised in bringing together this year’s rendition of “Julius Caesar.”
“I think it’s interesting, the analogies between ancient Roman politics and the politics of the United States now… You want present-day interpretations infused into theater, even if it’s from 2,000 years ago.
Not surprisingly, social media has also been flooded with folks celebrating the audacity of the Shakespeare in the Park “almost Trump” assassination depiction.
Others, however, have expressed outrage over the assassination of a very Trump-like Caesar. Many have taken to Twitter to share their angry thoughts.
Some critics of the Shakespeare in the Park portrayal of a Trump-esque Caesar being stabbed by women and minorities believe that it’s time to boycott the corporate sponsors of the event.
As Fox News Insider reports, Delta Airlines has already issued a statement regarding the content of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park version of “Julius Caesar,” responding to those who allege the play included a mock Trump stabbing. According to Delta, they “do not condone this interpretation of Julius Caesar.”
Others, including former executive director of Vets For Freedom Pete Hegseth, have pointed out that the production is partially funded by U.S. taxpayers by way of the National Endowment for the Arts. According to Hegseth, concerned taxpayers need to speak out against this use of “their” money.
“Is this not a responsibility for the public to say, ‘if you can use our dollars to depict the assassination of the president, we’re not going to stand for that?'”
The folks behind the annual Shakespeare in the Park event do warn potential audience members that the production may contain material some spectators may find offensive.
“Please note: Julius Caesar contains the use of violence, nudity, live gunshot sounds, strobe, herbal cigarettes, haze, and fog.”
Director Oskar Eustis has also issued a public statement on the Public Theater website. It says, in part, that Shakespeare’s work “is about how fragile democracy is. The institutions that we have grown up with… can be swept away in no time at all.”
Despite the largely right-wing outrage, this summer’s version of “Julius Caesar” is a show that must go on, and is still being performed to enthusiastic NYC audiences. The Shakespeare in the Park show, complete with the stabbing of Caesar as Trump, runs until June 18.
[Featured Image by Joan Marcus/The Public Theater via AP Images]