By coincidence, I’ve been watching on DVD the HBO series Rome, about the rise and fall of Julius Caesar and the politics that swirled around his reign over the Empire and led to his assassination. If you haven’t seen this particular historical re-creation, I’ll mention that two women play very significant roles: Caesar’s scheming niece Atia, the manipulative mother of Octavius (later Augustus Caesar), and Servilia, the ultimately cold-hearted, vengeful mother of Brutus, the principled senator who was among Caesar’s assassins.
As a result, it was intriguing to attend Julius Caesar at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC) in which the roles traditionally played by male actors have been assigned to women. Director Jeremy Dubin writes in a director’s note, “Intrinsically and irrevocably tied to the creation of Rome is this image of feminine strength, an image of tenderness engirded by ferocity, an image of the most dangerous creature known to the world — a mother protecting her young.”
Atia and Servilia are not characters in Shakespeare’s drama. In fact, women are barely present in the play — Caesar’s wife Calpurnia and Brutus’ wife Portia make brief appearances, but their loving concerns are quickly dismissed. The motives of Caesar (played for CSC by Liz Vosmeier), his cynical critic Cassius (Kelly Mengelkoch) and high-minded Brutus (Sherman Fracher) are unchanged — only the pronouns and male references (“sister” for “brother”) have been adjusted due to the gender reversals.
Julius Caesar continues at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through April 23. Go here to read Rick Pender's full review.