Et Tu, Delta? Shakespeare in the Park Sponsors Withdraw From Trump-Like ‘Julius Caesar’


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Elizabeth Marvel as Antony, left, Tina Benko as Calpurnia and Gregg Henry as Caesar in a preview of “Julius Caesar” at Delacorte Theater in Central Park last month.

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

New York’s Public Theater lost financial support from two high-profile corporate donors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, on Sunday amid intense criticism of its production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

The companies’ decisions came after days of criticism online and in right-leaning media outlets that was amplified by Donald Trump Jr., a son of the president, who appeared to call into question the theater’s funding sources on Twitter on Sunday morning.

“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 in a statement on Sunday night.

“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” the company said. “We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”

Bank of America followed hours later, saying it would withdraw financial support from the production of “Julius Caesar” but would not end its financial relationship with the theater, which a bank spokeswoman, Susan Atran, said had lasted for 11 years.

“The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” Ms. Atran said. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.” The statement came hours after the airline revealed its decision in replies to complaints on Twitter.

The play, which has been in previews since May 23, is scheduled to open Monday at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park as part of the Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park festival.

“Its depiction of a petulant, blondish Caesar in a blue suit, complete with gold bathtub and a pouty Slavic wife, takes onstage Trump-trolling to a startling new level,” Jesse Green of The New York Times wrote in his review.

The “vividly staged” production hews to the traditional interpretation of Shakespeare’s work, he wrote. “Even a cursory reading of the play, the kind that many American teenagers give it in high school, is enough to show that it does not advocate assassination. Shakespeare portrays the killing of Caesar by seven of his fellow senators as an unmitigated disaster for Rome, no matter how patriotic the intentions.”

But in conservative media outlets, criticism of the theater and its financial supporters erupted last week. The website Breitbart compared the play to the controversial online photo that showed the comedian Kathy Griffin holding a severed head resembling the president. (Ms. Griffin was fired as co-host of CNN’s New Year’s Eve program over the incident.)

Criticism of the play reached a fever pitch on Sunday when Fox News reported that it “appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities.” Donald Trump Jr., a son of President Trump, joined in shortly after that report, seeming to question the theater’s funding sources.

The play nods frequently to Mr. Trump and 21st-century America. The set design includes a blowup of the preamble to the United States Constitution. Some of the costumes are accented by Anonymous masks and the pussy hats favored by some Trump protesters.

Candi Adams, a spokeswoman for the Public, declined to comment on Sunday night on the uproar or the loss of sponsorships.

In a note published online, Oskar Eustis, who is the director of the play and the artistic director of the Public, makes clear that the play does not endorse the assassination of Julius Caesar or any other political leader in a democracy.

“Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means,” Mr. Eustis wrote. “To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.”

Other corporate sponsors of the Public Theater, including The Times, have also faced calls on social media to denounce the play or end their relationship with the Public.

A spokeswoman for The Times said the company, which has sponsored Shakespeare in the Park for 20 years, would not change course. In a statement, the company said: ”As an institution that believes in free speech for the arts as well as the media, we support the right of the Public Theater to stage the production as they chose.”

Last month, Gregg Henry, who stars in the play as the Trump-like Julius Caesar, told the website Backstage that he believed the comparison was apt because the Roman ruler “became drunk with ego, drunk with power, drunk with ambition and the belief that he and he alone must rule the world.”

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