"Peace, Ho!" Julius Caesar Goes To A Girls' School

Why yes, I did see an all-female production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar last night. And yes, it was awesome.

The Bushwick Shakespeare Repertory, which will be performing Julius Caesar at 8pm every night this weekend, bills itself as "a female-driven collaborative [...] committed to casting women in roles not traditionally available to them in Classical Theatre." Caesar is pretty much full of these roles, since nearly all the characters in the play are male. All-female Shakespeare productions are nothing new — one 1986 all-female production of Caesar replaced the fight scenes with "elaborate sequences of competitive flamenco dancing," which seems like a really inefficient way to depose a leader. Still, it's always interesting to see a play so apparently rooted in time and place reinterpreted — in this case, as a power struggle at a 1960s girls' school.

Director Jordan Simmons left the fight scenes in, thankfully, though some of the ladies did get stabby with nail files and scissors rather than swords. Flipping the gender of the characters made for some funny jokes, which the cast milked to varying degrees — a little extra emphasis on the first syllable of "countrymen," a sly inflection in the words, "peace, ho!" Simmons also chose to infuse the play with adolescent snark. The final scene, in which Antony praises the dead Brutus as "the noblest Roman of them all" and Octavius promises, "within my tent his bones to-night shall lie," is usually performed with great solemnity, but Emily Clare Zempel's Antony and Alexis Robbins's Octavius made these lines drip with snideness — rather than "noble Romans," these were kids rejoicing at another's downfall. And that may have been part of the point of the show — that the political machinations of famous men are sometimes as petty as the spats of schoolgirls, and, on the flipside, that the spats of schoolgirls are just as worthy of dramatic interpretation as the betrayal of a ruler.

Bushwick Shakespeare Repertory [Official Site]