Gregg Henry stars as a Donald Trump-esque Julius Caesar in Shakespeare in the Park's "Julius Caesar." Photo: Joan Marcus
Gregg Henry stars as a Donald Trump-esque Julius Caesar in Shakespeare in the Park's "Julius Caesar." Photo: Joan Marcus

A prestigious New York theater’s production of “Julius Caesar” has raised controversy for casting a Donald Trump lookalike as the assassinated dictator.

In the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park production of Shakespeare’s political tragedy about the death of democracy, the Roman ruler is played by “Scandal” actor Gregg Henry, in a suit and red tie with a mop of wispy blond hair and a Slavic-accented wife by his side.

About halfway through the play, Caesar is assassinated by his fellow senators becasue they think he’d become too powerful and threatened Rome's democratic government.

The parallel was a step too far for two sponsors so far, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, which have both pulled their support of the event.

 

“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,” Delta said via Twitter comments, adding that the “artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste.”

“The Public Theater chose to present 'Julius Caesar' in such a way that was intended to provoke and offend," according to Bank of America's statement. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it.”

The Hollywood Reporter shared this shot of the aftermath of Caesar's assassination:

The scene shocked even the audience, according to The Guardian, which was enjoying being in on the joke until it wasn't: "They shouted with glee when one of Caesar’s opponents declared, exasperated, that ordinary Romans loved him so much they would forgive him 'if Caesar had stabbed their mothers on Fifth Avenue.' But when Caesar’s enemies took out their knives and killed the Trump-like leader on the senate floor, no one was laughing. For a moment, there was absolute silence in the outdoor theater of nearly 2,000 people."

The assassination — as Caesar was stabbed to death in 44 B.C., so was his Trump allegory — doesn't spare the gore. As a Shakespeare in the Park attendee described it on Mediaite, Caesar is attacked under an American flag: “They had the full murder scene onstage, and blood was spewing everywhere out of his body.”

The Public Theater issued a brief statement on Monday afternoon: “We stand completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. 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.”

After Caesar's death, the Roman republic quickly spirals into chaos, ending with the deaths of the men who conspired against him and banishing democracy for almost 2,000 years. On that basis, the Public's statement continues, “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.”

The show is presented free in New York's Central Park through June 18 — here’s our guide to getting free tickets to gauge the controversy for yourself.

This isn’t the first time criticism of Donald Trump has landed an artist in trouble. Just last week, CNN fired Kathy Griffin from her longtime role as co-host of its “New Year’s Eve Live” program after an image of her holding a severed head made to look like Trump leaked online. And Trump's Electoral College win was one punchline too many for 'Merica, an America-themed East Village restaurant that wanted to start a friendly political dialogue.  

Criticizing the president, both personally and his politics, became its own cottage industry well before he even reached the White House. Many comedians, actors and artists have protested his policies through their creative work, whether it’s Comedy Central’s “The President Show” with Anthony Atamanuik, or musicals in which Russian President and alleged Trump backer Vladimir Putin gets a golden shower.

If you believe the universe has a sense of humor, there’s even a large sinkhole that opened up in front of the president’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida. And, as the Washington Post points out, what couldn't be turned into a Trump allegory?

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