The contemporary take on the play, which is running for free at the theater until June 18, moves Caesar’s empire to the US and gives his wife an accent not dissimilar to that of Melania Trump.
EARLIER: Just hours before tonight’s Tony Awards put the annual spotlight on Broadway, off-Broadway made headlines with a simulated assassination of Julius Caesar looking a lot like Donald Trump.
Delta Air Lines said today that it was terminating its four-year-old sponsorship of New York’s Public Theater because a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Central Park “crossed the line” of good taste and “doesn’t reflect” the company’s “values.”
Bank of America, the presenting sponsor of the Public Theater and an 11-year backer, has also withdrawn its sponsorship of the production, but not the nonprofit itself.
“Bank of America supports art programs worldwide, including an 11-year partnership with The Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park,” according to a statement given to Deadline by a company spokesperson. “The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in 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.”
A Delta spokesman had provided Deadline with a similar statement earlier in the evening. “No matter what your political stance may be,” it read, “the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values. 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.”
The Delta spokesman said that the show had been seen by Delta representatives. It’s been running since May 23 and officially opens tomorrow. Deadline and The New York Times ran reviews yesterday, Deadline because of the newsworthiness of the production, which is staged by the nonprofit’s longtime artistic director, Oskar Eustis.
But Delta has been rattled lately by bad press, including its response to a computer glitch that left thousands of travelers stranded last January. (While United has fared worse in the public eye of late, all airlines have been on heightened brand-image alert.) The Shakespeare backlash also comes in the wake of Kathy Griffin’s use of a bloody Trump-like head in a gory prank decapitation photo shoot gone awry, and Snoop Dogg’s video of him shooting a clown that resembled the president.
In a tweet this weekend, Donald Trump Jr. brought up the production and questioned the use of public funds to support it. “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?” (Shakespeare reputedly tweeted, in response: “Art is always political speech and no, that does not change things.” Deadline has been unable to verify the tweet.)
There had been scattered reports of patrons angered by the events graphically depicted onstage: The updated drama, at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park, portrays Julius Caesar and his wife, Calpurnia, as Donald and Melania Trump look-alikes. In Deadline’s review, the parallel between Caesar, the triumphant general who declines the crown offered him by Marc Antony, and Trump “makes no sense” but noted that Shakespeare had survived far worse interpretations.
So could the Public Theater, at least financially. Delta, according to the Public Theater, contributes between $100,000 and $499,000 annually to the theater, which developed recent Tony Award winners Hamilton and Fun Home and presented Sweat, a nominee for best play at tonight’s Tony Awards.