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Female Julius Caesar Stars in Gender-Bending Performance of Classic Play

 Carroll Gardens actress Sarah Dacey Charles will play the role of Julius Caesar in the upcoming Smith Street Stage performance.
Carroll Gardens actress Sarah Dacey Charles will play the role of Julius Caesar in the upcoming Smith Street Stage performance.
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Sarah Dacey Charles

CARROLL GARDENS — Actress Sarah Dacey Charles thought she would play Portia or Calpurnia in an upcoming Brooklyn production of "Julius Caesar" — but she wound up getting the title role of the legendary Roman general instead.

Dacey Charles will play a female Caesar in a gender-bending version of the classic play, as part of Carroll Gardens theater group Smith Street Stage's "Shakespeare in the Park" series in Carroll Park this summer.

“We’ll see what power looks like on a woman,” said Dacey Charles, 50, who lives in the neighborhood.

The actress, who has performed on Broadway and in national tours, hopes to draw from the political tension of last year’s presidential race for the play that revolves around corruption, betrayal and “a tide in the affairs of men.”

“In this modern, political world, Caesar can be a woman,” she said.

Dacey Charles moved to Carroll Gardens in 1998, “before Smith Street became Smith Street,” she said.

Having worked as a professional actress for about 25 years, she decided to audition for the play after seeing the local group’s performance of "Twelfth Night" last year.

Just last week, she was chosen to play a female Caesar in one of the most male-dominated plays in the bard’s repertoire. 

The play will also explore the dynamics of a female Caesar in a lesbian relationship with her wife, Calpurnia. While the play is still in the early stages of production, Dacey Charles believes the characters will come to life through rehearsals.

Now in its fourth year, Smith Street Stage has brought an array of Shakespearean classics to life in Carroll Park, including "Macbeth," "Twelfth Night" and "Romeo and Juliet." The historic tragedy is the company's latest challenge.

It wasn’t planned that a woman would play the Roman dictator until Dacey Charles auditioned, artistic director Beth Ann Hopkins said.

“She just fit perfectly,” Hopkins said. “She had a sense of royalty about her.”

Audience members will be able to gather around the actors on cushions and blankets to watch the free outdoor play, staged using live music and the park’s red brick building as a backdrop, she said.

“It really is an immersive experience,” said Hopkins, who started Smith Street Stage in 2010 with her husband, Jonathan.

Supported by community organizations, such as Friends of Carroll Park, the performances are family-friendly and try to make Shakespeare’s complicated work accessible to all audiences. 

“We want to be their theater,” Hopkins said. “The people’s theater.”

Smith Street Stage will perform "Julius Caesar" in their Shakespeare in Carroll Park series, beginning June 28 to July 2, July 5 to July 7 and July 11 to July 14 at 7 p.m.