Portia’s Julius Caesar gives Shakespeare’s women a voice
Portia’s Julius Caesar, written by Kaitlyn Riordan and presented by Hart House Theatre, takes a familiar story from Shakespeare and looks at in a new light. Many recent productions of Shakespeare’s plays have cast women in men’s roles. And a few have done the opposite. This production goes beyond non-traditional gender casting and instead tells the story of Julius Caesar from the perspective of those who are rarely seen and even more rarely heard from – the women. While remaining faithful to the political narrative, Riordan puts the wives, mothers, lovers and even the female slaves at the center and gives them voice.Riordan’s script is a mashup of lines from more than twenty different works of Shakespeare as well as her own writing. It’s quite a feat, and I thought it was very well done. The dialogue flowed smoothly and naturally and did not feel like it was pieced together at all.
I also really liked the set, designed by Rachel Forbes. The stage features a simple Roman temple with marble steps and harmonious and symmetric rows of columns. As the political situation in Rome becomes more fractured, so does the set with columns breaking and being pushed out of alignment.
Director Eva Barrie makes use of the entire theatre and not just the stage. Actors enter from the back and proceed through the aisles or descend from the stage to walk among the audience. I thought this was very effective. During Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral, the crowd of Romans is scattered throughout the theatre involving us all in the action. I could feel the energy of the angry mob building.
From the program notes, it seems that most of the actors are making their Hart House Theatre debut in this production and many are quite early in their careers. There were a few real standouts for me. athena kaitlin trinh, as Portia, was powerful as a mother, wife, and friend. She is not afraid to speak her mind to her husband Brutus. Alexandra Milne, as Servilia, Brutus’ mother, was devious and domineering, using indirect power to change the future of Rome. Whitney K. Ampadu, as Caesar’s wife Calpurnia, showed despair at her inability to bear a child and fear for her husband’s future.
Although Riordan successfully focuses Portia’s Julius Caesar around the women and their concerns, I was unsatisfied at the end. I felt like each of the main female characters was a trope – the nurturing mother, the barren woman, the evil mother-in-law. The emotions and relationships they expressed seemed authentic, but they felt one dimensional. Perhaps that was the point, that in a patriarchal society women are forced into roles and not allowed to develop or show their full selves. When they try to break free and expand their influence, they are punished.
Still, as my guest pointed out, as lovers of Shakespeare it was refreshing to see and hear women’s lives and women’s voices addressed in Shakespearean language and in a Shakespearean setting. If you love Shakespeare too, go check it out.
- Portia’s Julius Caesar is on stage at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until November 30, 2019.
- Performances are Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00pm with an additional matinee at 2:00pm on Saturday, November 30.
- Tickets are $28, $20 for Seniors, $15 for Students ($12 on Wednesdays) and can be purchased online, by calling 416-978-2452, at the Hart House HUB main information desk, or at the ticket window prior to curtain.
- The show runs 1 hour, 55 minutes with no intermission.
Photo of Whitney K. Ampadu by Scott Gorman