Controversial ‘Julius Caesar’ Play Opens to Standing Ovation in Central Park

Julius Caesar
Joan Marcus

The Public Theater’s new Free Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar,” which has stirred controversy with its depiction of a Trump-like Caesar, opened Monday night to a supportive crowd who gave the show a standing ovation after the production became the focus of right-leaning criticism and funding withdrawals.

Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public and also the director of the show, opened the evening with a speech that made clear the Public would stand behind the work, despite the withdrawal of funding support by Bank of America and Delta Airlines. He addressed a supportive, industry-heavy crowd that included Alec Baldwin; Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the director whose Broadway staging of “Jitney” had won a Tony Award the night before; actors Brian d’Arcy James (“13 Reasons Why,” “Spotlight”) and Bill Irwin (“Legion”); and “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller.

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Julius CaesarBy William ShakespeareDirected by Oskar EustisFeaturing Tina Benko (Calpurnia); Teagle F. Bougere (Casca); Yusef Bulos (Cinna the Poet); Eisa Davis (Decius Brutus); Robert Gilbert (Octavius); Gregg Henry (Caesar); Edward James Hyland (Lepidus, Popilius); Nikki M. James (Portia); Christopher Livingston (Titinius, Cinna); Elizabeth Marvel (Antony); Chris Myers (Flavius, Messala, Ligarius); Marjan Neshat (Metullus Cimber); Corey Stoll (Marcus Brutus); John Douglas Thompson (Caius Cassius); Natalie Woolams-Torres (Marullus); Isabel Arraiza (Publius Clitus); Erick Betancourt; Mayaa Boateng (Soothsayer); Motell Foster (Trebonius); Dash King; Tyler La Marr (Lucillius); Gideon McCarty; Nick Selting (Lucius, Strato); Alexander Shaw (Octavius’ Servant); Michael Thatcher (Cobbler); and Justin Walker White (Pindarus).

Theater Review: Trump-Like ‘Julius Caesar’

“Anybody who watches this play tonight — and I’m sorry there’s going to be a couple of spoiler alerts here — will know that neither Shakespeare nor the Public Theater could possibly advocate violence as a solution to political problems, and certainly not assassination,” Eustis said.

“The event here is not my show. The event here is the right-wing hate machine,” he added in an interview following the opening night performance. Eustis cited prior productions of “Julius Caesar” that have overtly referred to contemporary political figures, including one in 2012 that depicted Caesar as an Obama-like leader who is assassinated. Those prior production went off without controversy, he noted.

The audience attending the Public’s Free Shakespeare in the Park that night saw a production that leaned heavily on the topical references in the first half of the show, with Julius Caesar (played by Gregg Henry) sporting blonde hair and overlong ties and mimicking Trump’s hand gestures. Caesar’s wife (played by Tina Benko) spoke with a Slovenian accent, similar to Melania Trump’s, and there were nods to pink pussy hats and Twitter. The story’s assassination scene, which is the main focus of the controversy, was bloody — but the subsequent events played like a warning, as the murder’s noblest political goals were crushed.

The crowd stood to applaud when it was all over.

Barbara Whitman, the commercial producer of the Tony-winning musical “Fun Home” (which premiered at the Public), said the controversy was an important consideration in her attendance that night. She noted all the reasons it might have been easier to skip the event, given that it was the day after the long night of the Tony Awards and the fact that the outdoor production was playing in 90-degree heat. “But after what happened, I had to come tonight and support the Public,” she said.

Rocco Landesman, the former Broadway producer and theater owner who served three years as the head of the National Endowment for the Arts, also was in the crowd. “Satirical drama has been around since Aristophanes, and sometimes people get upset by it,” he said. “But these are such fraught and emotional times that everyone’s overreacting.”

Eustis said that despite the loss of funding (which he characterized as manageable), the Public, its staff and its board remained committed to the show. “There’s never been any dissension within the organization” about the production, he said.

“Julius Caesar” will close as scheduled on June 18, making way for the production of “A Midsummmer Nigjt’s Dream” that is the next offering of Free Shakespeare in the Park.

 

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  1. Henry says:

    Of course it is a hit.
    Now, whether it is any good is a different question.

  2. Are you HIGH!!!!! You despicable little man!!!!!! Reading actually helps ignorance, never heard about it….get a book!!!!!! Wishing death on people you do not know!!!! WOW, this surely makes me want to roll right on over to conservatism! I am not even a liberal, but Jesus Christ what you guys offer makes me nauseous!!!!!

  3. tsauvage says:

    So surprising and refreshing to see so many pro-conservative responses to this irresponsible play posing as art…especially in this online mag. Don’t let ’em tell you this has been done before with an Obama look-a-like because the Guthrie in Minneapolis ( a few years back) ain’t Shakespeare in the Park. Hey, Conservatives…keep making your voices heard!

    • You’re angry that a play that is written as a dire warning against any attempts to violently oust a leader portrays that leader as Trump. So, you disagree with the message that ousting him by violent means would be catastrophic?

  4. JR says:

    Disgusted by this! Regardless of political preference, there is a line of respect we should have for our president and our country. This is disgraceful and they should be ashamed. I am so sick of the lack of unionism and support for our country. We are more divided than ever and this began well before Trump came into office. This lack of acceptance and working towards a team effort to keep this country great will be the cause of our failure as a nation. Dangerous waters we have entered. America needs to unite and wake up!

    • You’re angry that a play that is written as a dire warning against any attempts to violently oust a leader portrays that leader as Trump. So, you disagree with the message that ousting him by violent means would be catastrophic?

  5. James1754 says:

    One question:
    What would be the reaction of this publication and any of the media if this had been done between 2009 and 2017 and the “president had been black”?

  6. American Born And Proud says:

    What I find disturbing is the portrayal or emphasis of someone murdering a president of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA no matter their political affiliation. The office of President should be respected for that reason alone regardless of who it is no matter race, religion, creed or color. The President represents US as a nation. Without this we are not United against our enemies. Yes we have the right of free expression, but without some sort of patriotism we have nothing. My suggestion is do some traveling around the world and see how good we have it here. May our President and leaders of this great nation be blessed with the knowledge and selflessness that is needed to keep us United.

  7. Only a left wingnut could stage an assassination of this President and blame the right wing hate machine. Anyone who is not blinded by their bias can clearly see that the hate is all coming from the left, e.g. BLM, Antifa, # Resist, Raging Waters, the call for impeachment every time the President exercises his authority, shutting down conservatives on college campuses.

    • You’re angry that a play that is written as a dire warning against any attempts to violently oust a leader portrays that leader as Trump. So, you disagree with the message that ousting him by violent means would be catastrophic?

  8. Erik Vornoff says:

    Liberals are passive-agressive fakers and liars. The character here is very low. Liberals play-act at projecting piety, innocence and holier than thou. They don’t know what you’re talking about when you say the lead character here is dressed as Trump. The lead character’s wife has Melania Trump’s unique European accent. And the lead character gets assassinated at the end. The audience, with Alec Baldwin in attendance, rises in approval. Thumbs up. Why don’t the liberals just be honest? They want to see Trump assassinated. Not only that, they want to help make it happen.

  9. Bruce Lee says:

    The same meat heads who bought tickets to the “The crucifix in the pee” exhibit.

  10. Jacob Young says:

    Think honestly about this. If this was a president Obama look-alike what do you think would happen? Careers destroyed? Death threats? Physical attacks?

    Answer: None of the above. No one would have the “audacity” to do this to Obama.

    • Ed Cole says:

      Yet, HAD this play been done 4 or 8 years ago about BHO, Variety and the rest of the MSM would have been fomenting nation-, if not world-wide race riot protests and outrage. Anyone denying that fact is either delusional or terminally hypocritical.

  11. Kevin R. says:

    STANDING OVATION..!??
    Hell, those leftist perverts were probably dancing in his blood…..

    • If the exact same thing was done to Obama, the communist media made sure it was kept quiet.

    • You’re angry that a play that is written as a dire warning against any attempts to violently oust a leader portrays that leader as Trump. So, you disagree with the message that ousting him by violent means would be catastrophic? Or are you just wholly unfamiliar with the play and angry because the media told you to be.

  12. Johnn Galt says:

    Shame on the SOBs.

  13. Blue Android says:

    Anyone who is a true American, no progressives, needs to cancel their American Express card and send CEO Kenneth I. Chenault a nastygram asking what is wrong with his thought processes. He apparently condones assasinations since he will not pull his funding for the theatre. CEOs are supposed to be the best and brightest and this is very telling of the state of affairs of modern day American CEOs.

  14. Brian D Hopper says:

    Amazing the poses put on by people who don’t know/don’t care about the real insights into human nature that Julius Caesar provides in spades. Theyare doing nothing more than stabbing a person in effigy for the delight of an uneducated rabble. They look down their noses at those who challenge their barbarism. That is exactly what this is.

    • Brian – you are 180 degrees bassackwards

      • Brian D Hopper says:

        That’s not an argument, Paul. But you are one of the people I’m talking about, or at least one of the army of wannabes that swallows every production of these people without thought or reflection. You just want to indulge in a bit of barbarity which you intend to double as moral preening.

  15. America has really fallen with so much of our population rude and disgusting. America used to share a much more love of country and respect for the office of the Presidency.

  16. John Schuldheisz says:

    This is but another example of the division between conservatives in rural/ small-town USA and the progressive elitists who live in the city-states. Reminds me more like 13th-century European Feudalism.

  17. itsy_bitsy says:

    A standing ovation! This should be all we need to know about the radical sickness that appears to inhabit a large portion of the population. These people are sick, they are rabid, they do not deserve to live in a country that allows free speech when they abuse it’s actual purpose so terribly! I am disgusted to find that there are many Kathy Griffins in this country – at least in NYC! Radical liberalism appears to be a sickness of the mind and the heart!

    • Nora says:

      Historically and literarily, the assassination of Julius Caesar is not treated as a good thing. The play is condemning the barbarism of violently ousting a leader (in this case portrayed as Trump). So you’re actually supporting the very thing you’re speaking out against. That is, if you’ve studied enough literature or history to know what you’re talking about.

  18. Rudy Pons says:

    I am sorry to say, but the liberal fascists have scored another low. They have set the “bar” for treatment of future liberal presidents. I did not agree with Obama’s agenda, but I was respectful. That is about to change!

    • Nora says:

      Historically and literarily, the assassination of Julius Caesar is not treated as a good thing. The play is condemning the barbarism of violently ousting a leader (in this case portrayed as Trump). So you’re actually supporting the very thing you’re speaking out against. That is, if you’ve studied enough literature or history to know what you’re talking about.

  19. Jake pliskin says:

    I could see something very bad happening. I hope not but there are a lot of sick people like the cast.

  20. Bng66 says:

    So let’s hang Obama in the next summer in the park play and sell popcorn!…

    And the crowd will go wild with applause and equal enthusiasm for the arts!…hell…Alec Baldwin may show up!!

    You leftist are a disgrace.

  21. Fred Mertz says:

    It seems the more money lefties have, the more self righteous they become. If WE had held a play where we murdered an Obama look-alike, they would have demanded we all be hanged. Maybe we should do what they most certainly would have done!

    • Johnn Galt says:

      The left absolutely will not stop themselves. What’s coming will make this issue look like tame make-believe. Bad times for a little while. But these lefties are going to ruin many lives.

  22. floriorules says:

    Ha ha ha ha. Progressives have lost and they can’t stand the truth. Trump 2020!!!!

  23. New York. Ground zero of the scumbag bomb.

  24. DivejumpshootUSMC says:

    Standing ovation? If they had done this with Obama there would be riots.

    The left is so pathetic- I am sure they rationalize it but doesn’t change how awful they are.

  25. David5300 says:

    So what it worth ? Standing O from the people who voted for De Blasio ?

    • America has really fallen with so much of our population rude and disgusting. America used to share a much more love of country and respect for the office of the Presidency. You have a good point there.

  26. A standing ovation in Central Park!!!!!. What else would you expect from the Anti- American , Snowflake crowd!!!! Appalling swine , each and every one!!! There is a special place in hell for y’all!

    • Tatterhood says:

      I’m astounded at the outcry against the play and its depiction of Trump as Caesar. It’s a PLAY, an appropriate vehicle to explore difficult or volatile issues! And no one is advocating killing Trump. The play addresses the possible consequences of unchecked power and how violence doesn’t solve problems. Given Trump’s expectation of unwavering loyalty and his propensity to behave as a dictator with unlimited power, it’s perfectly appropriate to portray Trump as Caesar. I applaud the company and director for bringing Caesar to life in modern times. Seems no different than Mel Brooks brilliant musical “The Producers” with the knock out song “Springtime with Hitler”. Conservatives… take a breath and relax. Go watch The Producers and be appalled and have a laugh all at the same time.

    • RALEIGH S WOOD says:

      amen

  27. MGP says:

    Where are the pictures of the standing ovation Variety? My cousins live in NYC and they were at this “performance”. They both remarked that there were many walk-outs and this standing O was comprised of about 10 percent of the audience. FAKE NEWS?

  28. Suppose we make a play of Obama being publicly beheaded for being an apostate? Standing Ovation!!!

  29. Vox Veritas says:

    Please stop pretending you didn’t know this is who Democrats are and how they think.

    • Nora says:

      Historically and literarily, the assassination of Julius Caesar is not treated as a good thing. The play is condemning the barbarism of violently ousting a leader (in this case portrayed as Trump). So you’re actually supporting the very thing you’re speaking out against. That is, if you’ve studied enough literature or history to know what you’re talking about.

  30. azarkhan says:

    “The event here is the left-wing hate machine” (fixed that for you, fool)

  31. Joe says:

    A rodeo clown wears an Obama mask and he is fired instantly, and banned from ever working another rodeo. Never mind he had worn Reagan, Bush, and Clinton masks. A play assassinates Trump on stage and they yell “freedom of speech!” Never mind they riot at UC Berkeley when conservatives come to speak. Anybody see a pattern of deceit and hypocricy?

  32. edword says:

    Let the children play…the adults have work to do.

  33. Noah says:

    Right wing hate machine? Once again, liberals assigning to opponents what they themselves do.

  34. p51d007 says:

    Wish JUST ONCE in this “plays” run, they would substitute OBAMA and see if the audience does the same thing. My guess they would boo, hiss, throw tomatoes, riot in the streets…

  35. A says:

    Would it be art to depict a play about Obama being lynched?

  36. cdavidreed57 says:

    There could not be a more ironic statement…”the right wing hate group” vs. the depiction of killing a sitting President. Where’s the hate here? Standing ovation? I haven’t seen it nor will I but my guess is the exuberance of the NTC audience had more to do with assassinating the president and less than the quality of the show.

  37. rbblum says:

    Given New York City’s history (The German American Federation rallies in Madison Square Gardens), the standing ovation for New York Public Theatre’s production is nothing new . . . nor surprising.

  38. 4ever49 says:

    A standing ovation?? So much for critical thinking among the liberal New York self-assumed intelligent crowd.

  39. al Peluso says:

    What else would expect from America’s garbage pit…New York City?

  40. Randy says:

    I wonder how many would be applauding if a Obama character was killed in the play?

  41. nsolcis says:

    shockingly disgusting. the left decries violence and the right to protect yourself from said said violence, but when they dont get their way, its nothing but violence, are we starting to see why they want to disarm us?

  42. Rob says:

    Had this been President Obama being assasinated what would be the reaction? Somehow I don’t think it would be a standing ovation by NYC.

  43. Steve Kiefer says:

    someone should create a likeness of the creator of this play and murder it over and over in videos on the internet. See how the little hatemonger likes his oen medicine.

  44. Vile vulgar violent and proud… the American Left

  45. Steve Kiefer says:

    The left in America are total hatemongers. No wonder leftists philosophies killed more than all others.

  46. StreekyD says:

    This is so evil on so many levels.
    For libs its titillating
    For everyone else, disgusting
    May you all rot in hell.

    • Nora says:

      Historically and literarily, the assassination of Julius Caesar is not treated as a good thing. The play is condemning the barbarism of violently ousting a leader (in this case portrayed as Trump). So you’re actually supporting the very thing you’re speaking out against. That is, if you’ve studied enough literature or history to know what you’re talking about.

  47. Matt says:

    Vile hateful progressives celebrating other vile hateful progressives… what’s the story here?

  48. Eric says:

    What a disgusting play, with disgusting people applauding it.

  49. dan ros says:

    Art? Standing Ovation? Hardly. This event was a “special invitation” event to promote the progressive Left Tantrum when it fails to get it’s way. The wanna be artsy half-wits, who along with their media joke counterparts, bend over for any left position, no questions asked (glorifying presidential murder is art?). Good luck New York.

  50. jsm1963 says:

    The play is apparently not politically correct enough for right-wing snowflakes.

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