Take “Julius Caesar,” one of Shakespeare’s best known and most often performed plays. Mess with the script — move things around, add new dialogue, condense from the original five to only two acts. Cast the show entirely with women, stage it in the round, outdoors — in Oregon.

What could go wrong? Probably a lot, but in Scott Palmer’s remarkable staging of “Julius Caesar” for Hillsboro’s Bag and Baggage — nothing!

Palmer’s approach to the play goes well beyond “adaptation.” His casting, costumes (wonderfully timeless creations by costume designer Melissa Heller), staging and script work together to reimagine the play into a powerful and cohesive story that breathes new life into what can be a mind-numbing maze of plots and characters. The dry, sneaky Roman patricians skulking around the Forum in togas and sandals have been stripped to their barbaric essence — a tribe of earthy, wild-haired warriors passionately defending their vision of Rome’s greatness.

Cyndi Rhoads plays the expanded role of Julius Caesar as a compelling, but somewhat delusional leader who has begun to believe his own press. Rebecca Ridenour as Caesar’s closest friend, Brutus, perfectly captures the character’s angst at be ing forced to choose principle over affection. The second prong of the triumvirate of assassins, Cassius (Arianne Jacques), provides a powerful contrast to Brutus’ purity — Jacques gives Cassius a sly and manipulative persona that fits well with Caesar’s perception of his enemy. Clara Hillier as the third prong, Casca, offers a strong, clear voice and superb acting in a physically demanding role.

Stephanie Leppert brings to the role of Brutus’ wife Portia at least as much power as any of her “male” colleagues. Cassie Greer plays Caesar’s staunchest supporter, Marc Antony, with a combination of sincere love for his leader and a sophisticated political acumen. She especially shines in Caesar’s funeral eulogy.

The minimalist set effectively utilizes not only the area encircled by the audience, but the entire Civic Center Plaza, to recreate the Roman Forum and the plains of Philippi.

In the hands of this astonishing ensemble of “kick ass” women, “Julius Caesar” delivers an entertaining and thought-provoking evening that is much more accessible to modern audiences than Mr. Shakespeare’s original work.

A longer version of this revew appears at

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