New York’s Public Theater lost support from two high-profile corporate donors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, on Sunday amid intense criticism of its production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.
The companies’ decisions came after days of criticism online and in right-leaning media outlets that was amplified by Donald Trump Jr., a son of the president, who appeared to call into question the theater’s funding sources on Twitter on Sunday morning.
“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 company said in a statement on Sunday night.
“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” the company said. “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 hours later, saying it would withdraw financial support from the production of “Julius Caesar” but would not end its financial relationship with the theater, which a spokeswoman, Susan Atran, said had lasted for 11 years.
“The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” Ms. Atran 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.”
The play is scheduled to open Monday at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park as part of the Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park festival. It has been in previews since May 23.
The theater, its financial supporters and its production of “Julius Caesar” have recently faced a wave of criticism online and in right-leaning media outlets. Last week, the website Breitbart compared the play to the controversial online photo that showed the comedian Kathy Griffin holding a severed head that resembled the president.
Criticism of the play reached a fever pitch on Sunday when Fox News reported that it “appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities.” Donald Trump Jr., a son of President Trump, joined in shortly after that report, seeming to question the theater’s funding sources. “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers?” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter. “Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
Candi Adams, a spokeswoman for the Public, declined to comment on Sunday night on the uproar.
Other corporate sponsors of the Public Theater, which includes The Times, have also faced calls on social media to denounce the play or end their relationship with the Public. A spokeswoman for The Times said the company, which has sponsored Shakespeare in the Park for 20 years, would not change course. In a statement, the company said: ”As an institution that believes in free speech for the arts as well as the media, we support the right of the Public Theater to stage the production as they chose.”
Last month, Gregg Henry, who stars in the play as the Trump-like Julius Caesar, told the website Backstage that he believed the comparison was apt because the Roman ruler “became drunk with ego, drunk with power, drunk with ambition and the belief that he and he alone must rule the world.”
But in a note published online, Oskar Eustis, who is the director of the play and the artistic director of the Public, makes clear that the play does not endorse the assassination of Julius Caesar or any other political leader in a democracy. “Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means,” Mr. Eustis wrote. “To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.”
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