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Broadway Shockers 2017: Shakespeare in the Park's Julius Caesar and Donald Trump

New York's favorite free Shakespeare theater leaped into national politics this summer.

As 2017 draws to a close, TheaterMania looks back on some of the most jaw-dropping stories of the year.

Tina Benko, Gregg Henry, Teagle F. Bougere, and Elizabeth Marvel starred in the 2017 Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar.
(© Joan Marcus)

The Public Theater made international headlines in June with its Shakespeare in the Park revival of Julius Caesar, which portrayed the Roman dictator with blond hair, wearing an ill-fitting suit jacket and audaciously long tie — an ensemble not unlike the one worn by our President.

Theater fans took to calling the production Trumpius Caesar, while critics debated whether a play that depicted the assassination of a man styled after the president of the United States was too on the nose, or not radical enough. Director Oskar Eustis (who is also the Public's artistic director) supercharged the already electric atmosphere around the Delacorte Theater by planting actors in the audience to shout at the performers onstage, making the play feel at times like a raucous town hall meeting. Adding to the chaos, several right-wing activists pounced at the opportunity to jump-start their media careers by leaping onstage to interrupt the show.

It's a shame they didn't stay until the end, considering how things don't turn out so great for Brutus and his fellow assassins. "This play warns about what happens when you try to preserve democracy by nondemocratic means," Eustis noted in a rousing curtain speech.

Whatever your feelings on the production, it irrefutably prompted a robust national debate about art and politics. This just proves Public Theater founder Joseph Papp's point that theater plays an essential role in the preservation of civil society — so it really ought to be free for all.