It’s not often that a 400-year old play sparks a heated national debate, but Corey Stoll is proud that The Public Theater’s recent production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar did just that.
In an essay for Vulture, the actor reflected on playing Brutus in the controversial Trump-themed tragedy and framed the production as a vital example of political and artistic expression.
“The protesters never shut us down, but we had to fight each night to make sure they did not distort the story we were telling,” Stoll wrote. “Watching my castmates hold their performances together, it occurred to me that this is resistance.”
Further in the piece, he added, “In this new world where art is willfully misinterpreted to score points and to distract, simply doing the work of an artist has become a political act.”
Staged as part of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park program, the Public’s Julius Caesar drew criticism from Fox News and conservative pundits for its depiction of the titular ruler as a blond-haired, suited man who bears a striking resemblance to President Donald Trump. The play depicts Caesar’s assassination, a fact that prompted sponsors Delta Air Lines and Bank of America to pull support and the National Endowment for the Arts to disavow the production.
Protesters also briefly disrupted several performances in the show’s final days.
Stoll pointed out that Julius Caesar does not advocate violence as a solution to political problems — quite the opposite, in fact. “The play makes it clear that Caesar’s murder, which occurs midway through the play, is ruinous for Brutus and his co-conspirators, and for democracy itself.”
He also called on artists to be steadfast.
“The cliché is true: In politics, when you’re explaining, you’re losing,” Stoll wrote. “So if you’re making art, by all means, question yourself and allow yourself to be influenced by critics of good faith. But don’t allow yourself to be gaslighted or sucked into a bad-faith argument. A play is not a tweet. It can’t be compressed and embedded, and it definitely can’t be delivered apologetically. The very act of saying anything more nuanced than ‘us good, them bad’ is under attack, and I’m proud to stand with artists who do.”
Read Stoll’s full essay on Vulture.