NEW YORK — The Public Theater in New York City lost two sponsors Sunday due to controversy surrounding its rendition of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which includes the gory assassination of a ruler who resembles President Trump.
Delta Air Lines and Bank of America pulled their support following criticism on social media. The play has come under fire from Fox News and one of Trump’s sons.
“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 airline said in a tweeted statement. “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, which noted in its statement that it has had an “11-year partnership with The Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park,” announced that it was pulling funding from the production.
“The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” the company said in a statement on Twitter on Sunday. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”
Another sponsor for the Public Theater, American Express, tweeted on Monday that their sponsorship with the theater does not fund the production of Shakespeare in the Park and that they do not “condone the interpretation of the Julius Caesar play.”
The Public Theater did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
Before Sunday, the Public Theater was sponsored by more than a dozen organizations, including the Time Warner Foundation, a nonprofit group supported by CNN’s parent company, Time Warner.
The play, which has been in previews at New York’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park and officially opens on Monday, is a contemporary take on the Shakespearean masterpiece. It features a Julius Caesar who has blonde hair and dresses in a suit and long tie rather than a toga.
The Shakespeare in the Park production, which is produced by New York’s Public Theater, includes American imagery, iconography and has Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, speak in a Slavic accent very much like first lady Melania Trump.
The play tells the story of how Roman noblemen plot to kill Caesar over fears that the ruler is amassing too much power, and the aftermath of that choice. It deals with themes like betrayal, hubris and free will.
Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” referred to the production on Sunday as “a disgusting New York City play depicting the president brutally assassinated.”
Donald Trump Jr., the President’s son, tweeted about the controversy on Sunday, saying, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers?”
He added, “Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
And last week, right-wing news site Brietbart posted an article with the headline, “‘Trump’ Stabbed to Death in Central Park Performance of ‘Julius Caesar.'”
Jesse Green, the New York Times’ co-chief theater critic, wrote in his review that “even a cursory reading of the play, the kind that many American teenagers give it in high school” does not advocate assassination. In fact, he writes that the killing is an “unmitigated disaster for Rome, no matter how patriotic the intentions.”
However, Green says that the production may leave some theatergoers, including those “who loathe Mr. Trump,” to wonder if it has “gone too far.”
After Delta and Bank of America pulled their support for the play, some social media users pushed back.
“Corporate cowardice,” tweeted journalist and author Mark Harris. “Shame on @delta for capitulating to Fox and Breitbart’s calculated performative distress.”