Bringing Julius Caesar Into The 21st Century

There’s been a big fuss over the last week over the New York Public Theater’s version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” As you’ve no doubt heard, the play features a staging in the present day with a Caesar wearing a bright yellow wig and an overly long red tie.

In other words, the play is being staged with a very Trump-like Caesar.  And given how the play ends for the Roman emperor (Spoiler Alert: He’s assassinated), there’s been a lot of criticism  of the production. Delta Airlines and Bank of America even went so far as to remove their corporate sponsorship for the production saying: “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,”

The director of the play, Oskar Eustis, in a note published on line, defended the production, saying that the play does not glamorize or promote assasination:

“Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means,” Mr. Eustis wrote. “To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.”

This is not the first time that “Julius Caesar” has been produced with an emperor who strongly resembles the sitting president.

Back in 2012, a joint production of the Acting Company and the well-regarded Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis also did a contemporary version of the play, this time featuring a a tall, slim, basketball loving black man who was an obvious reference to then President Barack Obama.

Oddly enough, there was very little mention of it in the press and no widespread criticism of it by liberals. No sponsors, including Delta Airlines, removed their sponsorship, and the American Conservative praised the production. (In fact, the Obamaesque version was forgotten enough that HBO talk show host Bill Maher was not aware that there had been such a staging.)

On a completely separate note, back in 1988 avant garde opera director Peter Sellars staged Mozart’s classic “The Marriage of Figaro” in Trump Tower with characters in modern business attire.  (This was, of course, long before Donald Trump was directly involved in politics.)

And for those of you who don’t know the story of “Figaro,” Figaro is a manservant for Count Almaviva. Figaro is about to be married to the lovely Susanna, and the Count wants to claim his feudal right, the droit du seigneur – to force Susanna spend her wedding night with him instead of her husband, Figaro.

Here’s a clip where Figaro is working on the Count’s laundry. Unfortunately, some of the audio quality is poor.  But the production was great fun when I watched it on PBS back in  1990. (I wonder whether the DVD of the opera will come back in print?)

A clip from early in the opera

And from the end.

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