NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Delta Airlines and Bank of America are backing out of Shakespeare in the Park over the use of a Trump lookalike in the production of “Julius Caesar.”
A golden-haired Donald Trump lookalike wearing a long red tie and business suit portrays Caesar, who gets knifed to death on stage.
Delta released a statement saying the staging does not reflect its values and crossed the line on standards of good taste. Delta has dropped the theater altogether.
“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. 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,” Delta said.
Bank of America believes the production was intended to provoke and offend, and the company decided to withdraw its funding of the production — though it will still fund Public Theater.
Some people waiting in line for tickets outside The Delacorte Theater in Central Park believe it’s an overreaction.
“It’s Freedom of Speech. Do some people carry it a little too far? Maybe, but it still comes down to that,” one man said.
“I can’t fly Delta anymore,” one woman said. “Theater is an incredible medium that does a lot of things, social commentary is one of them.”
“This is an art form and people have the right to free speech and people have the right to dress the character the way they please,” another man said. “For years now I’m sure many productions of ‘Julius Caesar’ have had some sort of reference to what’s going on in the world.”
“I think they should have some courage, it’s a play, it’s fiction, it’s not an instruction manual,” a man named George said.
But some other theatergoers said such a political message does not belong in a public Shakespeare play.
“Yeah, you can make a case for free speech, but I don’t think people are expecting to come here — people who want to have a political statement about Donald Trump have other places they can do that,” Anne Yoakamellsworth told CBS2’s Emily Smith.
“To take a current president and spoof it? Interesting,” said Rosemary Yoakamellsworth. “I guess there are different views about that.”
Tom is a donor and a regular at Shakespeare in the Park. He said he’s skipping the play.
“Interpretation is one thing, we’re talking about the demonstration of the killing of a sitting U.S. president, that’s not an interpretation that’s just wrong,” Tom said. “In principle it’s wrong and it’s wrong for my children to see.”
In recent days, criticism grew among conservative outlets.
“We stand completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone,” the Public Theater said in a statement. “Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.”
Pop culture and brand expert Adam Hanft said from a public relations standpoint, Delta and Bank of America did what they had to do.
“I think that what Delta and Bank of America did was sort of inevitable. I think many corporations faced with that decision would have taken that path, and I think that the short-term and long-term consequences will be probably minimal. I don’t see any profound implications to them,” Hanft said. “Some people will object to the short-term. Some people may say that they’re suppressing free speech and so on. But I think that from a corporate point-of-view, they did the right thing.”
The famed Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis staged “Julius Caesar” with a character appearing like President Barack Obama. Delta funds the Guthrie.
The play’s director, Oskar Eustis, would not go on camera. But he wrote publicly that Shakespeare’s play does not support assassination — rather, it is a warning for those who try to fight democracy by undemocratic means.
Eustis addressed the issue before the debut performance Monday night.
History buff Charles Fleisher said it is important to note some differences.
“Julius Caesar wasn’t elected,” Fleisher said. “He brought an army into Rome and took over.”
The Public Theater tweeted a response saying in part that the “clash of opposing views leads to the truth” and that they will remain “of, by, and for the people.”
The Monday night performance was sold out.