The emerging cultural rule seems clear enough: Oppose the president if you wish, but avoid violent imagery, even in jest, and you don’t get a pass if you launder your murder fantasies through Shakespeare. Showing the president’s head cut off, or having him stabbed on stage every night, isn’t going to be condoned by corporate America. The Public Theater, which produces the Shakespeare in the Park plays, has been suddenly reminded that it receives city, state, and federal grants. Take public money and you’re answerable to the public. (The National Endowment stresses that it didn’t support this particular production but continues to support the Public Theater, a distinction that may not impress you given that the director of Julius Caesar and the artistic director of the Public Theater are the same person.)
So subdued was the theater world as the news about Delta spread that Sunday night’s Tony awards turned out to be almost completely Trump-free. The evening was notably short on impassioned pleas, i.e., shrill grandstanding. What jokes were directed at Trump were few and mostly mild and there were even a couple of moments of (arguably) pro-Trump humor. The host, Kevin Spacey, mentioned the longtime voice of CNN, James Earl Jones, who received an honorary award, as “the most trusted name in fake news,” then later did a bit in character as Bill Clinton in which he mocked Hillary Clinton’s e-mail debacle. When Stephen Colbert appeared late in the show, to bestow the award for best musical revival, he awkwardly tried to segue into a contrived bit about Trump’s supposedly being a revival act, was rewarded with groans when he made a lame joke about the beauty pageant in Miss Saigon being the only one “whose dressing room our president has not walked in on,” and shot back, peevishly, “A lot of Trump fans here tonight!” You know your anti-Trump shtick is failing when a room consisting of 5,000 liberal Democrats doesn’t bite.