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The Unkindest Cut: Theater, President Trump And The Politics Of Performing Arts

New York City's Broadway in 2009
New York City's Broadway in 2009

Conservative critics are attacking a production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that’s running in New York. The basics of the play are the same as they’ve been since 1599 — the title character is deemed “ambitious” and is murdered in the Roman Senate on the Ides of March. But that’s not what has drawn controversy to the latest production.

In the Shakespeare in the Park version, Caesar is a blond president in a long necktie who is more than just reminiscent of President Donald Trump. And in this production, the conspirators who brutally murder the leader are played by women and people of color.

Facing complaints, advertisers have dropped their support of the play. But defenders of the interpretation say they’ve lost their reason, and they point to a 2012 production of “Julius Caesar” that portrayed the leader as a stand-in for President Barack Obama (and at least one conservative publication gave it a positive review).

Trump’s supporters say the art world has come to bury the president, not to praise him. Have artists in a polarized nation let loose the dogs of war? Is mischief afoot? Or are there no tricks in plain and simple art?


Kyle Smith, Critic-at-large, National Review; theater critic, The New Criterion

Jesse Green, Theater critic, The New York Times

Mike Wiley, Actor and playwright

Jacqueline E. Lawton, Playwright; professor of Playwriting, Play Analysis, Theatre for Social Change, & Dramaturgy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Copyright 2017 WAMU 88.5

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