At first glance, the Public Theater’s decision to imagine the namesake character of its recent production of Julius Caesar as a Trumpian figure felt as small-minded and baiting as Johnny Depp’s assassination comment from earlier this week. That’s the thing about first glances, though: They lack context and complexity, the exact things any piece of art should be weaving in. That the show was criticized roundly, with sponsors dropping out and right-wing protestors routinely disrupting the performance, just went to show how quickly something can be politicized to the point where nuance doesn’t matter anymore.
This is one of the big takeaways of a new piece actor Corey Stoll wrote for Vulture. Stoll played Marcus Brutus, Caesar’s chief assassin in the show. And though he mentions being “disappointed by the liberal design choice,” worried that the theater’s primarily left-leaning audiences might liken the performance to “a Saturday Night Live skit.” In time, however, he came to better understand director Oskar Eustis’ choice.
“The play makes it clear that Caesar’s murder, which occurs midway through the play, is ruinous for Brutus and his co-conspirators, and for democracy itself,” he writes. In time, he says he “better understood Eustis’s decision to be so literal in making Caesar Trump. A nontrivial percentage of our liberal audience had fantasized about undemocratic regime change in Washington. Acted out to its logical conclusion, that fantasy was hideous, shameful, and self-defeating.”
The piece ends up being more critical of the left—their target audience—than the right. It’s a reminder of the worth of making an effort to understand context and intent, which we can all use. For instance, take this tweet from one of the show’s protestors:
While it’d be easy to go crazy condemning this, it’s worth remembering that the play he’s talking about is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which was about a theocratic culture gripped by a mass hysteria that led them to burning a bunch of innocent women to death and ripping apart their community. These are artworks with nuance embedded in them already; they inherently subvert our didactic political dialogue.
Stoll sums it up beautifully: ”A play is not a tweet. It can’t be compressed and embedded and it definitely can’t be delivered apologetically. The very act of saying anything more nuanced than ’us good, them bad’ is under attack, and I’m proud to stand with artists who do.”