Shakespeare just got himself a big old helping of estrogen.
What would happen if his classic 1599 play, “Julius Caesar,” was stacked with women instead of men? Springs Ensemble Theatre’s ensemble member Jenny Maloney was itching to find out, so she adapted the ancient text for the final production of the company’s 10th season. It opens Thursday at SET and runs through Dec. 22.
The play, with its well-remembered line, “Et tu, Brute? — Then fall, Caesar,” uttered by Caesar himself — is the story of the destruction of a conqueror. After Caesar (Amy Brooks) returns from defeating her rival, Pompey, the Republic’s senators, led by Brutus (Lynne Hastings) and Cassius (Brittany Merritt), take a dislike to her sudden power and devise a plan to get rid of her. Doing so, however, creates more problems than they anticipated, and they must face Caesar’s stalwart general, Antony (Kala Roquemore), and her armies.
It was while reading through all of Shakespeare’s works, a personal challenge Maloney assigned herself, that she stumbled over a line from Cassius in “Julius Caesar”: “How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown?”
She was inspired.
“It struck me that I would be interested in seeing some female accents acting out this scene,” says Maloney, also the show’s director. “I wanted to explore it from another point of view.”
The ability to give women juicy roles was also at the forefront of her mind. Shakespeare never did in his time, and those roles are still noticeably lacking today, she says.
“What these women bring to it is experience that isn’t traditionally associated with Shakespeare,” she says. “They don’t have these opportunities to play a Julius or Othello or Hamlet, these monstrously iconic roles. You have all these women in Colorado Springs with beautiful talents and no opportunity to show them off.”
This isn’t the first time SET has turned Shakespeare on his head. In 2016, former SET ensemble member Jonathan Margheim adapted the bard’s “Titus Andronicus” for an all-female cast. Brooks also starred in the title role, as the Roman general who returns home after a decade of war, having lost 21 sons to battle.
Emory John Collinson and Josh Neal are the lone fellows in the cast this time around, filling the roles of Calphurnio and Portius, respectively.
“There is a beautiful scene between Portius and Brutus when conspirators come to Brutus’ house,” says Maloney. “To watch the tenderness coming exclusively from the men before such a violent act is about to occur is very touching.”
One might wonder how an all-female version of the play changes the context of the story. For Maloney, it was the betrayal of Caesar that seemed more heartbreaking.
“The friendships seem genuine to me. It was striking in that it seems sadder.”
And what if we could rewrite history altogether, changing Caesar into an all-powerful woman betrayed by her female friends. Would women also have backstabbed each other?
“History has shown women can be just as violent as men,” says Maloney. “Women have ambition and emotion and the same intellectual curiosity as men. At some point, those would have come in conflict equally with men.”