Both Delta Air Lines and Bank of America have pulled sponsorship support from The Public Theater’s new Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar. The show, which stars Gregg Henry as Caesar and Elizabeth Marvel as Marc Antony, has drawn the ire of conservatives because the blonde-haired Caesar bears a striking resemblance to President Donald Trump — and the show, of course, features Caesar’s death.
“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,” read the Delta statement on Twitter. “Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of The Public Theater effective immediately.”
Hours later, Bank of America also dropped its support. “Bank of America supports arts programs worldwide, including an 11-year partnership with the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park,” read a statement on Twitter. “The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in such a way that was intended to provoke and offend. Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”
American Express also distanced itself from the Julius Caesar production, writing, “We would like to clarify that our sponsorship of the Public Theater does not fund the production of Shakespeare in the Park nor do we condone the interpretation of the Julies Caesar play.”
In response to the sponsorship exodus, Trump’s son Eric praised the two corporations for doing the “right thing” in pulling money from the acclaimed, centuries-old Shakespeare play.
But not everyone was as pleased. “Now I know where not to bank & who not to fly with. Actions like this create a culture of fear. We must support free expression, not punish,” House of Cards creator Beau Willimon wrote on Twitter.
“This is disgraceful. You bankrupted countless Americans but this is where you draw the line?” author Roxane Gay wrote in response to Bank of America.
The controversy surrounding the production started when conservatives, including Fox News’ Fox & Friends, began condemning the show on account of its Trumpian similarities. “A New York City play appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities, Fox & Friends reported,” read an article on the Fox News website. The Fox News piece doesn’t mention the play is Julius Caesar, which was first performed in 1599 and has always featured Caesar’s death. Trump is not referenced by name in production; the doomed lead character is referred to as Caesar.
After the Fox News report posted online, the president’s son Donald Jr. retweeted the piece, asking, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
On the website for The Public Theater, the show’s director, Oskar Eustis, previously wrote, “Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means. To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him,” The director added, “Julius Caesar is about how fragile our democracy is. The institutions that we have grown up with, that we have inherited from the struggle of many generations of our ancestors, can be swept away in no time at all.” Eustis’ statement doesn’t directly reference Trump either.
Speaking to Backstage last month, Henry did mention Trump but noted that Shakespeare’s version of Caesar doesn’t necessarily correlate to the president.
“Julius Caesar was a general of great import in the world and an innovator and a great leader in many ways. But he became drunk with ego, drunk with power, drunk with ambition and the belief that he and he alone must rule the world,” Henry said. “So you can take from our present politics and president certain things he said in the campaign and certain things he said since he’s been in office in terms of his outlook and in terms of his philosophy if you will.”
Henry added that while the “great costumes and wigs” show audiences “this could be Trump,” he’s “also trying to bring in the larger knowledge of tyrants” to the performance.
“It’s sort of a ‘tyrants greatest hits’ in [the way I play] the speeches and in the nature of the ego and belief that one man is more important, is above the law, is the law,” he said. “Those tyrannical beliefs in terms of how to deal with power. Hopefully, I’m able to sort of show what’s happening with this president, tweak this president for kind of what he is in a lot of ways and also show the dangers of dealing with a tyrant or possible tyrant in our country.”
In response to the uproar, many mocked the controversy online, including Keith Olbermann.
This isn’t the first time a production of Julius Caesar has drawn on a presidential administration for inspiration. Back in 2012, The Acting Company produced a Julius Caesar with a lead character modeled in appearance on Barack Obama.