When New Albany High School theater director Elliott Lemberg considered which strong female leader would be a good model for a female-led version of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," one woman immediately came to mind: Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.

"She ruled with an iron fist," Lemberg said.

Although Shakespeare is known for his strong female leads -- think Rosalind or Lady Macbeth -- "Julius Caesar" is atypical in that it only has two female roles, he said.

So flipping gender roles for the high school production of the Shakespeare play, which debuts April 19 at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts' Mershad Hall, made sense to Lemberg for a couple of reasons.

From a practical standpoint, the theater department has more female students than males, Lemberg said.

But, he said, he also thought that if Caesar and the rest of the male characters were portrayed by girls, the audience could see the play's themes of idealism, power and ambition in a different light.

After Lemberg decided to use Thatcher as an inspiration for the female version of Caesar, that defined the time period in which the play would be set, he said.

"It's not true '80s, but it's very stylized '80s," Lemberg said.

As such, Caesar and the other political leaders have costumes inspired by the power suits of 1980s female executives, he said, and the soldiers will look like stereotypical 1980s punks.

The plebeians -- the lower classes of citizens in the play -- echo the MTV Generation, Lemberg said, and will wear clothing like that of characters in such John Hughes movies such as "Pretty and Pink" and "The Breakfast Club." (Think teased hair, T-shirts with suspenders and neon colors.)

Alaina Stout, an 18-year-old senior, will portray Marcus Junius Brutus.

She said gender won't affect how she approaches her role. Instead, she said, she is interpreting Brutus as androgynous -- a thoughtful, stoic and complex character.

Still, Stout said, her interpretation of how gender affects her character portrayal could be different than another female student who herself presents in a more feminine way.

"It depends on your personal choice," she said.

Ben Whitted, who plays Portia, the husband of Brutus, said he initially embraced his character's feminine side.

Now, though, the 18-year-old senior said he is working on adding a bit of masculinity back into his portrayal.

That's important, he said, because his character can show the contrast of the stereotypical image of masculinity with the vulnerability that males have that often goes unportrayed.

In the play, Portia's role serves to demonstrate the effects the political conspirators' actions have on the world around them, Whitted said.

Portia's character also brings up themes of self-harm, mental illness and suicide, he said, and he uses his own memories to try to convey the emotions he thinks Portia might be feeling throughout the play.

Performances of "Julius Ceasar" will be at 7:30 p.m. April 19 to 21 and April 26 to 28 and at 2:30 p.m. April 22 and 29. To buy tickets, go to seatyourself.biz/nahs.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah