BOSTON – The conventional wisdom is that if women were in charge, there would be fewer wars and less violence in general.
Not so fast, if an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays at Studio 210 adjacent to the Huntington Avenue Theatre is any guide.
The Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of “Julius Caesar” features women in all of the parts, a female director and an all-woman design team to boot.
And, if anything, it is darker and more foreboding than any production of “Caesar” I’ve seen, and none of the considerable violence has been deleted or dumbed-down.
In this future world, it is all women, all the time, in Rome and elsewhere in the world, and the absence of men is neither explained or referred to. The text of the play has been adjusted to reflect the single gender present.
It is, as you might expect, a bit off-putting at first to hear some of Shakespeare’s more notable lines in a new context but truth be told, other than the allowance for the gender changes and a few other minor tweaks, the production has not strayed very far from the traditional telling of the tale.
And the text is in the hands of some fine actresses, who are well aware that Shakespeare didn’t write nearly enough strong female roles as he did for the men, commonplace at a time when females were forbidden even to play themselves, since female actors did not appear on stage until the mid-1600s because acting was not deemed a credible profession.
The Rome envisioned by director Bryn Boice and the design team is a dark and foreboding place, ripe for the type of conspiracy that could bring down even an God-like figure such as a platinum blonde Julius Caesar (Liz Adams). Her entrance is heralded and she shines like a beacon of light in the darkness.
The conspirators against her operate in shadows and darkness, and Caesar has no reason to heed the warnings of the soothsayer (MaConnia Chesser) to “Beware the Ides of March” or the dreams of wife Calpurnia (Erin Eva Butcher).
Bobbie Steinbach and Marya Lowry as Cassius and Brutus are at the heart of it all , Brutus a most powerful and respected warrior and Cassius a particularly dangerous politician, able to bend and contort words to her advantage.
In many ways, the switch in that gender does not seem to have dulled Brutus’ desire to have at his enemies or Cassius’ wish to be the last woman standing at the end.
Marianna Bassham gives an impassioned performance as Marc Antony, who is allowed to speak at Caesar’s funeral and proceeds to grieve, accuse and eventually foment turmoil as her words cause the populace to rise up against the treachery of the assassins.
The fine cast also also features Julee Antonellis, Jade Guerra and Charlotte Kinder in multiple roles.
This is a Rome where hope is in short supply, and violence and vengeance are at play when the armies of Octavius, Antony and Lepidus battle Cassius and Brutus with sharply-detailed depictions of the violence.
Cristina Todesco’s set design has a long rectangular, nearly-bare stage with theater-goers on two sides and a bundled-up body hanging on a chain, foretelling the violence to come.
Jen Rock’s lighting mixes dark and shadows as the conspiracy against Caesar evolves with moments of flash and light when “the dogs of war” are let loose
Sound designer Amy Altadonna warns of the violence to come with a throbbing, at times heavy metal sound track which ups the ante for what’s happening onstage.
Rebecca Jewett has joined in the mood, dressing the players in all black, with boots and breeches and sheathed daggers at the ready.
With an ever-increasing number of female playwrights, directors and designers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more women-centric productions to join this and work done by troupes such as Maiden Phoenix, which has authored worthy productions of both Shakespeare and other works.
Even with this production, those involved have struggled to answer just exactly would happen if women, instead of men, were unleashing the aforementioned “dogs of war.”
Truth be told, even director Boice in her program notes appears unsure when it comes to the answer.
“We’ve been on a relentless pursuit for the truth within the framework of ‘Julius Caesar’ and have used this play to speculate, exaggerate and explore what might happen if we, womankind, came to power.
“Ultimately we’re asking, would the world be any better, or does gender even matter? And if it doesn’t, why are we still struggling for equality?”
The Actors Shakespeare Project production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” At the Studio 210 adjacent to the Huntington Avenue Theatre through Dec. 17. actorsshakespearproject.org