Lend me your ears. You’ll be glad. Today’s subject is the controversial production of “Julius Caesar” in which a Donald Trump-like figure gets assassinated. Given today’s angry political climate, the costuming showed poor taste at the very least. Delta Air Lines and Bank of America withdrew their sponsorship, and who could blame them?
But let’s give a closer look to the Shakespeare play, which just finished a run at New York’s Central Park. Its deeper message apparently flew over the heads of the pro-Trump hecklers and no doubt many in the cheering audience.
“Julius Caesar” does not simplistically celebrate the violent removal of would-be dictators. There are opposing arguments here, both voiced by noble Romans. And the assassins also end up dead.
That’s why few went crazy five years ago when a “Julius Caesar” production at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis chose an actor resembling Barack Obama for the title role. In 2015, Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company cast a woman, suggesting Hillary Clinton as Caesar – without incident. More on that later.
A protester at the Trump-themed production rushed the stage. Her colleague hollered from his seat, “You are all Goebbels,” a reference to the Nazi propaganda minister.
The two disrupters were publicity hounds tied to a right-wing conspiracy factory. Isn’t it cute how professional right-wing liars like to accuse others of being exactly what they are? I will not do them the honor of naming their affiliation.
(Spare me your outrage about leftists shouting down conservative speakers on campus. They’re obnoxious, too.)
The next evening, some Trump fans picketed outside the theater. Fair enough. They have a right to free speech, as does the theater. But in stating their case, they also revealed the self-pity and distorted reality often running through the Trump base.
“People like me, I don’t even know if they’d let me in,” Pauline Pujol said in martyred tones.
I know I’m right about this: A ticket, not proof of voter registration, is all that’s needed for entrance. And the tickets are free to voters and nonvoters of all persuasions.
Pujol carried a sign that read, “Far Left Hates America!” That’s the story many right-wingers keep telling themselves. Ask this woman why any patriot would support a president hindering a probe into a hostile foreign plot to destabilize American democracy. I doubt you would get a coherent answer.
Anyhow, listening to Mark Antony’s funeral oration condemning the assassination might have calmed her. And she could have noted how it all ends badly for Rome.
“We are asked to consider how far citizens may go in removing a destructive leader,” critic Jesse Green wrote in The New York Times, “and we are warned about unforeseen consequences.”
As noted, no one went bananas when Trinity Rep cast a female Caesar at a time when Clinton appeared headed for the Democratic nomination. Director Curt Columbus explained the decision: “Once you claim your identity, people try to tear you down. … The old guard is trying to keep out the newcomers and their struggle to be heard.”
Trump’s most dedicated backers routinely make that case. They complain that their hero is a newcomer whom the old guard is trying to tear down. Alas, that connection can’t be made Twitter-short. And face it; the enduring image of the Central Park production was a guy with an orange comb-over in a business suit being taken out.
I’m not taking bets that either side will sit down and read the play. But that could help any interested parties decide for themselves whether the presentation was unfair, unbalanced and irresponsible or merely, as the critic saw it, “great, nasty fun.”
Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators syndicate.
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