US & Canada

Trump-like Julius Caesar play boycotted by US firms

Cast members appear in the Public Theater production of Julius Caesar Image copyright Instagram/Public Theater
Image caption The New York-based production has been criticised for "crossing a line" over the Trump-like lead

Two major US corporations have ended their sponsorship of a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which the Roman leader mimics Donald Trump.

In the New York-based production, Julius Caesar is depicted as a blond-haired businessman in a blue suit.

The production company, Public Theater, said the character was a contemporary Caesar "bent on absolute power".

One of the sponsors, Delta Air Lines, said the producers had "crossed the line on the standards of good taste".

In the Shakespearean tragedy, which is staged in New York's Central Park, Caesar is assassinated in a lengthy scene in which he fights off his attackers before succumbing to multiple stab wounds.

The lead character's wife in the play, Calpurnia, is depicted wearing designer outfits and speaking with an apparent Slavic accent - suggesting that she is based on First Lady Melania Trump, who is Slovenian.

The company released a statement saying it stood behind its production.

"We recognise that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions," the statement said. "Such a discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater".

The company added its production in no way advocated violence and pointed out the message was that "those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save".

On its website, the company states that the play is about "how fragile democracy is," adding that it highlights how the "institutions that we have grown up with can be swept away in no time at all".

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Delta said on Monday that the "graphic staging of Julius Caesar" at the Free Shakespeare in the Park event "does not reflect" the airline's values.

President Trump's son, Donald Junior, criticised the production, asking whether boundaries had been crossed in what he described as art becoming political speech.

"I wonder how much of this 'art' is funded by taxpayers?" he tweeted, adding: "Serious question, when does 'art' become political speech & does that change things?"

On Monday afternoon, the National Endowment of the Arts answered Mr Trump's question on its website, noting that "no taxpayer dollars support Shakespeare in the Park's production of Julius Caesar".

The play opened with previews on 23 May and the production is due to run until 18 June.

Delta and the other sponsor to withdraw, Bank of America, have both supported the Shakespeare season in Central Park for several years.

In a 2012 production of Julius Caesar by New York-based The Acting Company, the Roman leader was modelled on then-President Barack Obama.

Commenting on the row, Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the UK's Royal Shakespeare Company, said that Shakespeare could often surprise modern audiences with how "relevant" he is.

"Though he often set his plays in periods and places that were remote from his own, by doing so he could talk freely about his own society," he said.

"We constantly reapply that metaphor to our own times. Shakespeare is like a magnet that attracts all the iron filings of what is happening in the world."

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