A 2012 production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Guthrie Theater is being drawn into a national debate about a current New York City production that features a Caesar who strongly resembles President Donald Trump.
“For those of you saying, ‘The left would be livid if Caesar was played as Obama,’” wrote journalist Mark Harris in a tweet that’s been shared thousands of times, “it happened. We weren’t.” Harris included a link to a Mpls.St.Paul review of the Guthrie’s Caesar, which was a joint production with the Acting Company.
For those of you saying "The left would be livid if Caesar was played as Obama": It happened. We weren't. https://t.co/BLaJf3wCto— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) June 12, 2017
The Acting Company production was staged in a manner that evoked the present day, with actors in business suits and “Bjorn DuPaty cutting an unmistakably Obama-like figure as the eponymous ruler,” I wrote in my own review for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Overall, I found the production to be strained and awkward in its striving for relevance. “By the time we got to the 'OCCUPY ROME' sign and the Faireyesque Caesar posters,” I wrote, “I was watching through my fingers with my hands over my face.”
True, though, there was no national outcry. In fact, Broadway World notes that Delta Air Lines was one of the Guthrie’s sponsors that season. Delta, along with Bank of America, has pulled corporate support from New York’s Public Theater over the Trump-like Caesar the company created.
“No matter what your political stance may be,” the airline wrote in a statement, “the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer’s free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values.”
The irony of the controversy, as Shakespeare fans (including the current production’s director) have observed, is that the assassination of Caesar in the play isn’t glorified: It’s presented as a tragic event symptomatic of the weakening of Rome’s once-strong democratic values. Et tu?