6/12/2017

I Saw Shakespeare in the Park's Julius Caesar, and You're Wrong to Complain

When I saw the Public Theatre's production of Julius Caesar at its Shakespeare in the Park last Saturday, complete with its modern dress and setting, I watched as Caesar, played as Donald Trump by actor Gregg Henry, was pretty viciously assassinated. Any high schooler can tell you that it's the coolest part of the play, and, indeed, the rest of it is pretty anticlimactic after Mark Antony's eulogy. I remember thinking as Trump was stabbed to death, "Oh, someone's gonna have a problem with this." The next day, I tweeted, "Can't wait for the fake outrage."

I was actually shocked that the outrage machine, finished, as it was, with Kathy Griffin, hadn't already picked up on the idea of a bunch of liberal New Yorkers watching America-hating actors murder the president every night. I can report that the night I saw it, no one walked out. And, even though the audience had laughed at the crude and grotesque Trump/Caesar, no one cheered when he was killed. In fact, by the time Fox "news" and Breitbart and the usual gaggle of right-wing clickturbaiters finally got wind of it this past weekend, the production had been running for three weeks, with just one more week to go. If they had shut the hell up, it would have passed by without making a ripple. Now they've made it a cause.

Bugfuck they were gonna go and bugfuck they went. Fox and Friends, the president's TV dumbass pals of choice, said that it "appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities." Well, putting aside that Brutus (you know, the "unkindest cut" dude?) is played by white male actor Corey Stoll, sure, there are women and non-whites jacking Trump/Caesar. And the whining by outraged illiterates and their enablers caused both Delta Airlines and Bank of America to pull their support for Shakespeare in the Park, a 50-year tradition in New York's Central Park. The National Endowment for the Arts felt compelled to rush out a statement that it didn't give any taxpayer money for the production.

Let's put aside for a moment the fact that anyone who knows a goddamn thing about the actual play, you know, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, is aware that it's a cautionary tale about letting animal instincts take over. If anything, the message of the play is "Chill the fuck out a little or you'll really unleash hell." And put aside that sponsors had no problem with productions of Julius Caesar where Barack Obama-as-Caesar was assassinated, not to mention that, strangely, conservatives were quiet then.

But forget all that for a second.

We have a president who had a cabinet meeting today where he not only bragged about the "record-setting pace" he's gotten shit done (which likely means, "Talked about doing something"), but then forced the various secretaries of various agencies to perform a circle jerk of praise for him. In other words, the government is now in the official business of worshipping its leader. That's fucked up right there. And I could very easily list dozens of offensive, cruel, violent, and shitty things Trump has said about other people.

Yet any time someone denigrates Trump or is perceived to be denigrating Trump, the nutzoid right-wing attack machine goes to work to tear them limb from limb. Frankly, Reza Aslan shouldn't have apologized for calling Trump "a piece of shit," except to say, "Sorry, I meant, 'a pile of shit.'" Kathy Griffin shouldn't have apologized. She should have taken another picture where she's skullfucking the eyehole of the bloody Trump head with a long, black strap-on. Enough with acting as if there isn't a long tradition of savagely mocking and insulting the president of the United States. And, shit, this time the bitching conservatives are not even right about what they're complaining about.

At PJ Media, some fuckin' guy wrote about the Julius Caesar kerfuffle, "[I]t plays to the sensibilities of people who read The New York Times and The New Yorker and The Nation in a trite and already-clich├ęd fashion." We can argue that last point, but what's wrong with playing to our sensibilities? We get to have our sensibilities soothed, too. Why does everything have to get a thumbs-up from conservatives to be valid public art? Fuck you. Take down all the Confederate monuments, blow up Stone Mountain, and change the fucking state flag of Mississippi, and then let's talk about this kind of shit.

The thing that bothered me most about this production of Julius Caesar wasn't that Caesar was presented as Donald Trump, complete with a wife, Calpurnia, who spoke like Melania. What bugged me was that I didn't think it followed through on its own concept. Mark Antony should have been Pence, with Paul Ryan for Octavius. I mean, if you're gonna go for it, don't go half-assed. Go full-assed allegory.

The one thing that no one is talking about is that the resistance that is defeated by the forces of Mark Antony and Octavius Caesar is modeled on Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter and other recent protest movements. They are chanting "This is what democracy looks like" before they are gunned down by the police.

Shouldn't that be the part of the show that warms the hearts of the conservatives looking for things to fake outrage at to distract them from the real damage Trump is doing? And you'll notice that liberals aren't screaming in anger about it because that's the kind of shit that art does.

(And, by the way, the better choices for Trump are Macbeth, the guy who's good at one thing and becomes a paranoid, incompetent leader who only got the job through crime and betrayal, and King Lear. C'mon - mad king? Three kids -no one counts Tiffany- one who is his favorite?)