At least two sponsors have pulled their support from an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar amid controversy that the play depicts the assassination of a Donald Trump lookalike.
The New York City production is put on as part of the Public Theater's "Shakespeare in the Park" series, an annual event in Central Park.
The play has been in previews since May 23 and is scheduled to open Monday for a week of performances at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
In this adaptation of the play, the role of Caesar is played an actor resembling the president who meets his end after being stabbed to death by women and minorities.
Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, is played by an actress with a heavy Slavic accent, similar to Melania Trump's.
“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 New York Times wrote in its review of the play.
According to the Times review, the play's set design and costumes also reflect current events, including the use of pussy hats — the knitted, pink beanies with cat ears worn by thousands of women at January's Women's March.
Many, including Donald Trump Jr. , have criticized the play, claiming it promotes violence against the president.
Conservative media outlets, including Breitbart and Fox News, added to the criticism surrounding the production.
In an article titled "NYC Play Appears to Depict Assassination of Trump," Fox News wrote that while Trump's name is never used during the play, "the fact that his wife is depicted with a 'Slavic accent' and he is being stabbed by women and minorities gives it away."
Following the controversy, Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled their years-long sponsorship of the Shakespeare in the Park series.
"The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in a way that was intended to provoke and offend," a Bank of America spokesperson said. "Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production."
Delta Air Lines said the graphic staging of the play does not reflect the airline's "values."
“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” Delta said in a statement. “We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”
The Public Theater is standing behind its production of Julius Caesar.
"We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors, and supports have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions," a spokesperson for The Public Theater said in a statement. "Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy."
The statement went on to say that the production in no way advocates violence toward anyone.
"Shakespeare's play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save," the statement reads. "For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.”
The Public later tweeted a similar statement:
On Monday, the National Endowment for the Arts, which has previously granted money to the New York Shakespeare Festival, issued a statement saying this year's production of Julius Caesar was not awarded any funding.
“The last grant that the NEA awarded to the public theaters for the” New York Shakespeare Festival was “in 2016 for two plays," spokesperson Victoria Hutter told BuzzFeed News. "We haven’t made an additional grant to date for this year’s festival.”
Trump's son Eric tweeted that pulling funding was "the right thing to do."
Oskar Eustis, the production's artistic director, told PIX 11 that the play "in no way advocates violence towards anyone."
Many people were not happy the companies withdrew their support. The hashtag #BoycottDelta began trending on Twitter with people claiming the airline is censoring art.
This is not the first time the play has been adapted to reflect different time periods.
In 2012, director Rob Melrose set the play amid "Occupy Rome" protests in Washington, DC, during Barack Obama's presidency. The role of Caesar was played by Bjorn DuPaty, a black actor, depicting the character as a charismatic politician.
Much before that, in 1937, Orson Welles adapted the Shakespeare play to resemble fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
BuzzFeed News reporter Lissandra Villa contributed to this report.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mary Ann Georgantopoulos at email@example.com.
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