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ET TU MADAM BRUTE? `JULIUS CAESAR' WITH A TWIST.

Byline: P. Catherine Shanks Community Columnist

The Simi Valley-based Xanadu Theater Company will premiere its updated version of ``Julius Caesar'' at the ninth annual Ojai Renaissance Faire and Shakespeare at the Lake, at 11 a.m. Sunday.

The action takes place in and around ancient Rome, where sometime between Lupercalia and the Ides of March, a far-from-paternal conspiracy is unfolding.

In this new version of the Shakespearean classic, the women in power outnumber their male counterparts. In a peculiar plot twist, Brutus, Mark Antony, Cassius and the rest of the ruling class are females. Only Caesar and, in another twist, the female character Portia represent the purportedly stronger gender. Toni Jourdan plays Cassius in the not-too-preposterous rendering.

``There is a little bit of a different subtext,'' Jourdan said of the traditionally male-based play. ``But there is so much nuance in the Shakespeare that, when you twist it a little bit, what comes out is interesting.''

Jourdan, who is very pregnant in real life, admitted that certain lines take on a whole new meaning when women take over.

``There's a line about Cassius' lean and hungry look that elicits a rather unusual response,'' Jourdan said, laughing.

In fact, the players have taken to their power-hungry characters with real zeal, said Jessica Mingo, who plays Mark Antony.

``Mark Antony is kind of an impulsive character,'' Mingo said. ``She's pretty much a wild child.''

For Mingo, who generally studies the background of a character before taking on the role, playing a man has presented some interesting challenges.

``I've tried to throw myself into the role,'' Mingo said. ``I'm trying to take her to the extreme, to see where she takes me.'' Mingo found herself inadvertently picking her teeth and playing with her hair with the prop dagger at a recent rehearsal.

``I've become very close to Brutus' character, even though we're supposed to be enemies,'' Mingo said. ``Of course, we get a whole girl-fight thing on the battlefield.''

As Brutus, Alissa McLaughlin has faced her own set of challenges.

``In male productions, the men can be cold and unemotional,'' said McLaughlin. ``As women, the characters are not as unemotional about the conspiracies and death.''

McLaughlin said she even spotted one of her fellow players sobbing while she, as Brutus, played her death scene. The actress commented on the one liability of her role. ``If I call Portia my `wife' one more time, they're going to hurt me,'' she laughed.

While the drama may be intense in this redefined Caesar, the farcical aspects of the revisionist plot will, undoubtedly, surface at unexpected intervals.

``There are points where it's quite comedic in rehearsal,'' Mingo said. ``I don't know how we'll perform it,'' she said, contemplating the eventual outcome of the show.

According to Jourdan, the idea of the altered play is to imbue the characters with womanly qualities and characteristics, not to turn the men into women. The intent is more sexless than it is a females-in-power plot.

``We're women who've just come to the end of their ropes,'' said Jourdan of the new Roman contingent. She said the message is one of genderless empowerment.

``They're all looking at their own lives and noticing that the wrong people are in power,'' Jourdan said.

Jim Diderrich plays Julius Caesar in the Xanadu production. Remaining cast members include Jessica Kincade, Dereem McKinney, Karl Mickelson, Kyra Lin Oser, Ivy Ratefia, Bree Sumkin and Jeri Ursetti.

After its Ojai debut, the play will move to the Thousand Oaks Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Ave., on April 24-25 and May 1-2. The Arts Council Center is located at 482 Greenmeadow Ave.

For Ojai Renaissance Faire information, call (805) 496-6036. For Arts Council Center Xanadu Theatre performance information and tickets, call (805) 381-2747.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 16, 1999
Words:622
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