FAIRFIELD — William Shakespeare’s “Richard III” — a play known for its strong, manipulative and powerful male characters — will take the stage at Sacred Heart University Nov. 14-17 with an all-female cast.

When a talented group of actresses auditioned for the Theatre Arts Program (TAP) production, director and adjunct professor John Flaherty thought that having them fill all 19 roles made sense, even though Shakespeare wrote only four female characters in the play. “There were so many solid female performers who tried out,” he said.

Back in the 1500s and 1600s, men would have played all roles in a play, even the female parts. “It’s fun to flip that,” Flaherty said. “Why not use women where the men would be? We live in different times.”

Feedback from the cast when they learned the news was “overwhelmingly positive,” Flaherty said. This type of casting had, to Flaherty’s knowledge, never been done before at SHU, he noted, and “everyone thought it was exciting and different.”

Junior Rebecca Radisic, 20, a theater arts and media arts double-major from Wayne, NJ, auditioned for the part of Lady Anne, but she was cast as Richard. “I was shocked when I found out that the cast of Richard III was all female because I was not expecting it,” Radisic said. “I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity and empowered as part of something so ‘avant-garde.’ I think this was a very bold and progressive move for the Theatre Arts Program to make here at SHU.”

Flaherty said TAP is about challenging students and teaching them how to develop their skills. “Anyone can play anything,” he said. At rehearsals, the cast has been mastering technique and discussing the differences between being a man versus being a woman. They question how a man would stand or how a man would speak, and they are trying out attitudes, physical presence, voice and volume. “Men and women have a different way of carrying themselves,” Flaherty said. “We’re exploring that.”

“I think having Richard III be an all-female production is just another step in pushing boundaries, with the hopes of something truly spectacular being the outcome,” said senior Courtney O’Shea. “I think the audience will be surprised at the power and skill this group of women bring to these challenging roles.”

O’Shea, who auditioned for a female role, was cast as Duke of Buckingham: a “conniving, backstabbing, ambitious guy,” she said. “This specific role intrigued me when I first read the play, so I’m very excited that John [Flaherty] decided to go in this direction and gifted me this fun character.”

The 21-year-old from Merrick, NY, who is studying marketing and musical theater, said she loves working on Shakespeare productions. “The language, characters, and plots are so intriguing and beautiful, every time I can be in one, I like to go for it. Also, John Flaherty is such a fabulous director. He has such a love for Shakespeare, which makes it so easy to find and strengthen characters and understand what it is that’s going on in the show,” O’Shea said.

The cast also has been dissecting the dialogue at rehearsals. Flaherty said they are dealing with a 450-year-old version of the language, and they need to know what they’re saying and mean it.

“We’re breaking it apart, peeling through the layers. Once they understand it, the audience will too,” he said

Radisic said rehearsals have been rewarding. “The atmosphere is great because this group of women is so supportive and incredibly talented,” she said.

Richard III is a play about a greedy man who wants all of his brother’s power and will do anything to get it. Flaherty, a passionate Shakespeare fan, said the plot is as current now as it was in Shakespeare’s day. “It’s all about how people manipulate to get what they want,” he said. “It’s about being human. Shakespeare gets it.”

The play runs Nov. 14-17 at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts. For ticket information visit, https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1017161.