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VOL. 125 | NO. 50 | Monday, March 15, 2010

Women Get Role Reversal in ‘Julius Caesar’

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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SWITCHING ROLES: Susannah Millonzi of New York stars as Brutus in Tennessee Shakespeare Co.’s all-women production of “Julius Caesar.”  Photo: Kevin Sprague

When William Shakespeare was writing and performing his plays, he did so with an all-male cast as it was illegal for women to appear on stage. Now Germantown’s local Shakespeare authority has decided to even the gender score.

The Germantown-based Tennessee Shakespeare Co. will present an all-female production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” opening March 23.

Dan McCleary, artistic director for the company, said to expect more than a gimmick with his reverse order of gender bending.

“We have so many more women holding political, corporate and social authority now that their voices are beginning to change the local and national agenda and dynamic,” McCleary said. “I want to hear the rhetoric of Brutus and Antony, the discrepancy of honor between the genders, and how women in the majority might face domestic violence and national war differently than a majority of men.”

“Julius Caesar” recounts the triumphant return of Caesar to Rome after numerous military victories. Hailed as a hero, Caesar’s colleagues in the Senate fear his sudden rise to power and slyly convince one of his closest friends, Brutus, to ambush him for the sake of the republic.


"JULIUS CAESAR" will run March 23 through April 11. Ticket prices range from $24 to $36 and may be purchased by visiting www.tnshakespeare.org or by calling the TSC Box Office at 759-0604, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“(‘Julius Caesar’) is a play entirely about love,” McCleary said. “The love of the personal gets in the way of the love of the public. The only character that shifts in the story, and this is unusual for Shakespeare, is the state of Rome. It goes from being a republic to an empire.”

Brutus thoughtfully simmers over the plot against Caesar, which eventually leads to a blood bath rather than stability.

McCleary got permission to stage the play inside the council chamber at Germantown City Hall, 1930 Germantown Road S. It’s a setting he said is ready-made for political theater.

Just 164 seats, as many as fire code would allow, will be available and will be set in the round, on a dais. The play will be staged in “Grecian form,” meaning all seven cast members, many of whom play multiple roles, will be in view throughout the show.

Once again, McCleary hand-selected a cast of professional, union actors from across the country to fill the dramatis personae including Susannah Millonzi of New York as Brutus, whose inner emotional conflicts are central to the play.

Vanessa Morosco, who plays Julius Caesar, recently appeared as Helena in Tennessee Shakespeare Co.’s fall production of “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.” Brittany Morgan also returns, this time as Portia.

The only local performer in the cast is Irene Zombor, assistant principal cello player for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, who will add music to the production with influences from Johann Sebastian Bach and the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly.

Violence in the hands of women is another area McCleary wanted to explore. Shakespeare wrote more than a few murderous heroines in his plays, but in “Julius Caesar,” the two female roles, Calpurnia and Portia, both find their voices muted by the actions of their husbands.

“There is a deficit of female roles in the play,” McCleary said. “If the men in the play would just listen to the two women in the play, we’d never get to Act III (in which Caesar is murdered).”

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