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When the NY Times Theater Section Says You've Gone Too Far, You've Gone Too Far

Et tu, Shakespeare in the Park? New York Public Theatre's summer season kicked off with a production of Julius Caeser that seems to have taken a page from the Kathy Griffin playbook. It's a modern interpretation that includes the lead role of Caesar dressed as Donald Trump. And, in case you skipped ancient history in high school or college --- spoiler alert --- Caesar doesn't survive a bloody assassination attempt.

The production, even according to The New York Times, crossed a line --- so much so that two major sponsors have ended their support. Delta issued a company statement that included the following:

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.

Bank of America followed suit:

The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend. Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.

Jesse Green of The New York Times wrote this in his review:

Its depiction of a petulant, blondish Caesar in a blue suit, complete with gold bathtub and a pouty Slavic wife, takes onstage Trump-trolling to a startling new level. The “vividly staged” production hews to the traditional interpretation of Shakespeare’s work. Even a cursory reading of the play, the kind that many American teenagers give it in high school, is enough to show that it does not advocate assassination. Shakespeare portrays the killing of Caesar by seven of his fellow senators as an unmitigated disaster for Rome, no matter how patriotic the intentions.

"When The New York Times theater section says, 'Perhaps you've gone too far,' you've gone too far," Glenn said Monday on radio.

Enjoy the complimentary clip or read the transcript for details.

GLENN:  Hello, America.  Let me -- let me start with this.  Delta and the Bank of America have dropped their sponsorship of something that they have a long-term sponsor.

 

Now, is art political speech?  Yes.

 

Can it be political speech?  Yes.

 

Does it have to be political speech?  No.

 

Is Shakespeare political speech?

 

I've seen -- I've seen Shakespeare -- I've seen Macbeth done as they were all dressed as Germans, and they were Nazis.  Yes, it was political speech.  It was political speech when it came out.

 

Shakespeare In the Park has happened in New York City for a very long time.  Shakespeare in the park happens in almost every American city -- at least big city.  New York City has decided to put Shakespeare In the Park and Julius Caesar on.  And what happened was Julius Caesar instead of being dressed in a toga, is dressed in a blue suit and a very long tie.  And it's said in contemporary America, "And he's the president of the United States," and he looks like Donald Trump

 

PAT:  And his wife speaks with a Slovak accent.

 

GLENN:  Is that a problem?  I mena, I don't understand why you had to bring that up.

 

And so there's a scene in Julius Caesar that includes a very bloody murder, an assassination obviously.  It's Julius Caesar.

 

STU:  A spoiler alert.

 

GLENN:  Sorry.  Sorry.  I know it just came out and we're all flocking to it.

 

PAT:  Unreal.

 

GLENN:  Bank of America issued this statement:  Bank of America supports art programs worldwide, including 11-year-old.  An 11-year partnership with the public theater and Shakespeare In the Park.

 

Public theater chose to present Julius Caesar in such a way that it was intended to provoke and offend.  Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it.  We're withdrawing our funding from this production.

 

PAT:  Nice.

 

GLENN:  Wow.  That's unbelievable.

 

PAT:  That is.  That is.

 

GLENN:  Now, immediately, you say, nice.

 

PAT:  But we don't like boycotts.

 

GLENN:  I don't like boycotts for --

 

PAT:  Yeah.

 

GLENN:  When it comes to -- when it comes to sponsorship of art, first of all, I don't agree with this.  I would have been offended by this.  I wouldn't have liked it.  I would have gotten up and gone, "Okay.  I get it."  But I would have also kind of expected it from New York, okay?  And I wouldn't have liked it.  And I'm torn because I'm glad somebody says, "You know, we have higher standards than Kathy Griffin holding on a a severed head of the president."  There's no place for that.

 

STU:  We are learning that there is a line of criticism of conservatives or Republicans or whoever.

 

GLENN:  Yeah.

 

STU:  Which basically is limited at the decapitated head of --

 

PAT:  Well, depictions of murdering the president is --

 

STU:  Is about it.  It's about all you can't do.

 

PAT:  That's not cool.  We've always said it.

 

GLENN:  We've always said that.  We said that under George Bush.  We've said that under Barack Obama.  We say that under Donald Trump.  You don't do that.

 

PAT:  You don't do that.

 

GLENN:  You don't even joke about it.  You don't get near any of that.  So I don't like any of it.  However, we're getting to a place to where if we keep ratcheting up these boycotts -- and these boycotts -- people are not -- companies are just not going to spend money on sponsoring things that you're going to like.

 

STU:  It leads to a very boring world.

 

GLENN:  A very boring -- because who is going to pay for it?

 

STU:  Right.  When there is something interesting or intriguing -- again, I don't think this is that.

 

GLENN:  I don't either.  That's why kind of putting this into good news category.  It's common sense.  You don't do that about the president.

 

PAT:  And you wouldn't expect Bank of America to join this boycott.

 

GLENN:  No.  No.

 

PAT:  That's completely -- Delta, I don't know.  I'm not sure of their political leanings.  But Bank of America, you would never expect that from them.  It's amazing.

 

STU:  So is it an organized boycott in which people are pressuring these companise to do it, or did they just happen to see --

 

PAT:  No, I think they just happened to pull out.

 

STU:  That's not a boycott.  That's just them saying --

 

GLENN:  Well, you know that -- I can't imagine that somebody --

 

STU:  Who would even know?  It's Shakespeare In the Park.  Who would even know that it occurred?  I mean, it had to be some Bank of America executive who went.

 

PAT:  Yeah.  Bank of America just said they withdrew its financial support.  There's nothing wrong with that.  That's great.

 

STU:  And I would guess that the next presentation -- production they have isn't about murdering the president.  They'll probably sponsor it.

 

GLENN:  I will tell you this, it doesn't say anything in here about an organized boycott at all.

 

PAT:  Yeah, it doesn't actually say that.

 

GLENN:  What it does say is Jesse Green, the New York Times co-chief theater critic wrote in his review:  Even a cursory reading of the play, the kind that many American teenagers give it in high school, does not advocate assassination.  He says that the killing is an unmitigated disaster for Rome, no matter how patriotic the intentions.  However, Green says, that the production may leave some theater goers, including those who loathe Mr. Trump, to wonder if perhaps they've gone too far.

(chuckling)

When the New York Times theater section says, "Perhaps you've gone too far," you've gone too far.

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