Julius Caesar screams from a tower, asking who has just warned of the Ides of March. But instead of a man in the general's garb, as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar has been performed for centuries, it's a woman. In fact, women play all the characters—their regal pompadours stuck with flashy feathers, their leather and cotton clothing effeminate and almost steampunk. During such bombastic scenes, as Caesar's cries echo off the Hillsboro Civic Center's glass and stone, the outdoor setting of Bag&Baggage's all-female production couldn't be better. The acting and direction, on the other hand, overlook the feminine perspective.
The tragedy charts the conspiracy against Caesar (Cyndi Rhoads), his assassination and his supporters' eventual defeat of the murderous traitors. Despite the title, the true protagonist is Brutus (Rebecca Ridenour, in her biggest Portland role yet). Convinced by the conspirators that Caesar must die for the good of the republic but then wracked with guilt after killing his best friend, Brutus is a singular character, which requires an actor both commanding and careful to not overwhelm the play's subplots. Though the breezy open-air plaza requires Ridenour to trade nuance for volume, she makes a convincing if traditional Brutus.
Brutus' counterpoint is Caesar's friend Marc Antony (Cassie Greer). When on the periphery, Greer is unremarkable. But in the play's most critical and challenging moment—Marc Antony's oft-quoted funeral speech—Greer unleashes gall and rhetorical power with each ironic utterance.
Other moments underwhelm. The onstage assassination of Caesar presents great creative opportunity, but here the conspirators wave black flags around Caesar's slowly falling body. The scene feels like a football sideline show after the visiting team has scored, the Caesar mascot dying comically amid victorious and calculated dancing.
Caesar's political intrigue and Brutus' moral wavering could arguably gain a great deal from a female perspective. Borrowing from a few esoteric, centuries-old plays, B&B artistic director Scott Palmer's adaptation makes some well-needed refinements and tightens later acts around the more central characters. But Palmer's reworking seems unaware it's played by an all-female cast. Absent, for instance, are any ironic sideways glances when the characters delineate the virtues and the vices of women. Though the cast delivers well-informed performances, I'm still waiting for a more radically reimagined Caesar.
SEE IT: Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, 150 E Main St., Hillsboro, 345-9590. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays through Aug. 17. $18.