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Out & About / Ventura County

Role Reversal

Inconsistent acting aside, gender switch succeeds in 'Julius Caesar.'

April 29, 1999|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Adapting or otherwise fooling around with Shakespeare's plays is nothing new--William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," updated to the present, was a hit a while back; "Ten Things I Hate About You" ("The Taming of the Shrew" set in a Seattle high school) and "Shakespeare in Love" crowd the multiplexes; and new filmed productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Othello" are on the way.

Now there's the version of "Julius Caesar" at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks, directed by Toni Jourdan.

Jourdan's gimmick is almost complete gender-reversal: Although Caesar (nicely played by Jim Diderrich), and his wife, Calpurnia (Jeri Ursetti) retain their original genders, scheming Cassius, gullible Brutus and most of the others who figure in his assassination are portrayed by and as women.

(Ventura's Plaza Players announced a similar production, but with a female Caesar, a few years ago; it never got off the ground).

Generally speaking, the gimmick works very well to those who can accept that women can be as conniving, self-serving, deceitful and brutal as men.

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Ostensibly a tragedy, there's plenty of humor in "Caesar" that director Jourdan and her cast pick up: The scene in which Pindarus (Dereem McKinney) puts a positive spin on Calpurnia's prophetic dream is a highlight.

Add to that the extra irony that comes with having women overthrow Caesar to install the puppet Marc Antony (Jessica Mingo), and it's a terrific concept. If only the acting were a little more consistent. Members of the cast, including Jourdan as Cassius (her "lean and hungry look" despite the actress' advanced pregnancy) and Ivy Ratafia as Casca are excellent; some of the other cast members seemed less assured at Saturday's premiere. (There is one other male in the cast, Karl Mickelson as Portia--he's fine).

Please note that this production is being presented outdoors on the Arts Council Center patio, afternoons only. Dress accordingly.

DETAILS

"Julius Caesar" continues at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Road (off Moorpark) in Thousand Oaks. Tickets are $10. For reservations or further information, call 381-2747.

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Stoppard one-acts at Ventura College: British playwright Tom Stoppard was the ideal candidate to polish the script for "Shakespeare in Love"--his earlier works include several Bard-based parodies, including "Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," "The Fifteen-Minute 'Hamlet,' " and the paired one-acts "Dogg's 'Hamlet' "/Cahoots's 'Macbeth.' "

Ventura College's theater department isn't doing any of those, alas, but is producing two non-Shakespearean Stoppard one-acts: "The Real Inspector Hound" and "After Magritte," under the direction of Jay Varela.

"Hound" is a parody of those drawing-room English mysteries that local groups, including the Elite Theater Company and Marquie Dinner Theatre, do so often; everybody's trapped in an isolated mansion with a killer on the loose: "The Mouse Trap" is its obvious antecedent.

"After Magritte" is even more obscure, a slice-of-surrealist-life drama, named for the surrealist Belgian painter (1898-1967) and played for laughs.

The plays aren't really suitable for a general audience (though more viewers will recognize the conventions of "Hound" than of "Magritte"), and the broad attempted British accents don't make anything any more accessible. But there are amusing moments in both plays (though real drama critics would never--well, hardly ever--act like those in "Hound": boasting, lusting after the leading actress and insulting co-workers and the play), and the casts are winningly energetic.

DETAILS

"The Real Inspector Hound" and "After Magritte" conclude Sunday at the Ventura College Theater on Loma Vista Road, between Ashwood Avenue and Day Road in Ventura. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $7 general; $5 for students, staff and seniors. For reservations or further information, call 654-6462.

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Casting Call: Cabrillo Music Theatre will hold auditions by appointment May 8 and 9 for "The Pirates of Penzance," to play at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza from July 23 to Aug. 1. Two Actors' Equity guest artist contracts are available for the roles of Pirate King, Frederick, Mabel, the Sergeant and Major-General; the remainder of those parts and all others are open to non-Equity performers. Those wishing to audition should prepare a song, no longer than one minute, appropriate to the role desired; and bring a photograph, resume and sheet music in the proper key. To schedule an audition, call 497-8615.

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