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Shakespeare in the Park began its summer season in New York City’s Central Park last month with a “contemporary” take on the playwright’s Julius Caesar, in which the title character bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to President Donald Trump.
In an interview with Mediaite, Laura Shaeffer — who saw a recent performance of the play, which opened May 23 — said that the character of Julius Caesar in the Public Theater adaptation wears a business suit and has his hair styled in a manner similar to Trump’s.
Sheaffer added that the character of Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, speaks with a “Slavic accent” similar to that of First Lady Melania Trump.
As happens at the end of the original play, the (Trump-inspired) Caesar is brutally stabbed to death by his associates in the Senate. Sheaffer said Caesar’s death scene was particularly graphic, with blood “spewing everywhere,” and an American flag hanging overhead.
“To be honest I thought it was shocking and distasteful,” Shaeffer told Mediaite. “If this had happened to any other president — even as recently as Barack Obama or George W. Bush — it would not have flown. People would have been horrified.”
The Trump connection in the Oskar Eustis-directed production was not intended to be subtle, though the president is reportedly never referred to by name during the show.
The actor playing Caesar, Gregg Henry (who also happened to play a caricature of Trump in Shonda Rhimes’ ABC show Scandal), told Backstage in an interview last month that while the similarities between the Roman general and the current president don’t always align exactly, there was still much to be gleaned from Trump’s presidency and then injected into his portrayal of Caesar.
“The idea for me was to try and do some things that will represent and show you—and I have great costumes and wigs that show you that this could be Trump,” Henry told Backstage. “But I’m also trying to bring in the larger knowledge of tyrants. It’s sort of a ‘tyrant’s’ greatest hits’ in [the way I play] the speeches and in the nature of the ego and belief that one man is more important, is above the law, is the law. Those tyrannical beliefs in terms of how to deal with power.”
For her part, Shaeffer told Mediaite that while she found the parallels between Trump and Caesar “fascinating,” the onstage murder of a character that so closely resembled Trump was a step “too far.”
“I don’t love President Trump, but he’s the president. You can’t assassinate him on a stage,” she told the outlet.
The fake “assassination” of President Trump in the Shakespeare play comes just one week after comedian Kathy Griffin was pictured holding a bloodied, decapitated prosthetic head meant to resemble the head of Trump. The photograph was widely condemned by both sides of the political aisle, and Griffin later apologized during a press conference.
Julius Caesar opened May 23 and runs until June 18 in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. As with all Shakespeare in the Park productions, the play is free to the public. In addition to Henry, the show also stars Elizabeth Marvel (True Grit), Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Eisa Davis (House of Cards), and Tina Benko (Brotherhood).
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum