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Local theater leader defends N.Y. company in ‘Julius Caesar’ controversy

Elizabeth Marvel (left) as Antony, Tina Benko as Calpurnia, and Gregg Henry as Caesar in a preview of “Julius Caesar” at the Delacorte Theater in New York.

A local Shakespeare company leader came to the defense of New York City’s Public Theater after Bank of America and Delta Air Lines withdrew financial support from the Public’s free summer production of “Julius Caesar” over the weekend. The companies cut ties with the show because of its Trump-like Caesar (the character is assassinated in Shakespeare’s play).

Kimberly Dawson, executive producer of the Somerville-based Actors’ Shakespeare Project — which will stage a Bryn Boice-directed all-female “Julius Caesar” in November — said she was disappointed by the news and wondered whether those who made the decision to pull funding had actually seen the production. “Far too often there are misunderstandings around what story a play is trying to truly tell when someone takes a snapshot from the play and does not consider the context,” she said via e-mail.

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Preparing for their own production, Dawson said, “our conversations have been about the political crisis and power struggles that drive the action of the play. As always, we attempt to provoke thought, reflection, and an open discourse about what these themes may reflect in today’s society. Part of being an artist is to reflect and interpret the world we live in [in] order to inspire a conversation from varying viewpoints. My take on ‘Julius Caesar’ is that it is a play about betrayal, power, and the role of government in the greater context of society. The act of assassinating Caesar is obviously the most well-known historical moment in the play, but it is not the only scene that makes it a compelling piece of theater. At ASP, we always use the text of the play as an invitation into a deeper discussion about the complexities of being human. I believe that the production at The Public is trying to invite a similar discourse around power and politics in today’s society.”

The Public Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar” — which features Gregg Henry of “Scandal,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Chicago Med” as Caesar — runs until June 18. On Monday, the company thanked fans via Twitter for support, saying, “We continue to be guided by our values of openness, inclusion, and the conviction that in drama and democracy alike, the clash of opposing views leads to truth.”

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