I was so excited to review The Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar. I happen to love this play, I adore Oskar Eustis’s work and love Shakespeare in the Park, however I was not prepared for the deconstruction of a play, that made me wonder, if I even knew this play at all. It is also hard to review, knowing you too could be verbally stabbed by people who read you. Being in a city where if you say one word for President Trump, you are the one who is assassinated. I know this, because when I spoke out about the treatment of Vice President elect Pence at Hamilton, my Facebook page was deluged by hate. I feel now as I felt then, only at a higher level. We can not sink down into the same depths of those who we despise. We need to take the higher ground. Like Kathy Griffin, this production, Oskar Eustis and the Public Theatre have gone too far.
Julius Caesar (well done by Gregg Henry) is Donald Trump. There is no way around this. His wife Calphurnia is Melania (the terrific Tina Benko) and the seven senators who murder him are US senators. Hello, what’s up with the American flag in the senate, even though we are in Rome?
Mr. Eustis states; “Those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic methods, pay a terrible price and destroy their republic,” but that is not the message you get when you see a resemblance of President Trump stabbed to death or naked. Also Mr. Eustis planned this production on election night. My guest who is not originally from America stated “This is not good for your county,” and he is right. Mr. Eustis added only three words to the text, but reduced it by a quarter, which takes on many different meanings. We are told before the play starts that the line was added “If Caesar had stabbed their mothers, they would have done no less” added “on Fifth Avenue.” What’s with the cheap shot?
Marc Antony (Elizabeth Marvel) is a women with a Southern accent. Completely weird, as she seems like Ivanka and again we are in Rome. The normally wonderful Corey Stoll plays Brutus like he’s on depressants, John Douglas Thompson as Cassius seems in a different play (and that is a good thing), Teagle F. Bougere as Casca seems like he is in a show based in the 60’s and Nikki M. James as Portia just meanders. The show is so muddled and I blame this on Mr. Eustis, as these are all winning and competent actors.
Mr. Eustis, has also gotten who Julius Caesar was, wrong. Caesar was a great war hero, a diplomate who created social and governmental reforms. He was killed because the corrupt senate was afraid he would have too much power.
David Rockwell’s set contains graffiti, a poster of the Muslim women dapped in the American flag, the preamble to the Constitution and a senate that looks like Lady Liberty’s head, that is then split. Paul Tazewell, dark suits and trench coats, federal lapel pins all resemble the FBI, pussy hats, masks that look like Anonymous and a couture Calpurnia, strut the stage. Jessica Paz’s sound design and Bray Poor’s soundscapes are well done.
I am not political and yet I am forced to speak out, for I do believe we need to make our voices heard. Mr. Eustis stands by what he has done, as does NEA The National Endowment For the Arts, Bank of America, Delta Airline, the countless audience goers who were left in shock and as do I. Violence begets violence and this was just in poor taste.
Julius Caesar: Public Theater – Delacorte Theater, 81 Central Park West. until June 18th.