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Local Directors Take Shakespeare In Startling New Directions

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When the curtain falls on director Julian Toole’s production of “Othello,” some theatergoers may wonder what all the fuss is about. The costumes are Elizabethan; the sets are spare; none of the actors are mannequins. Wasn’t this supposed to be new and risqué? they’ll ask. Or at least they’ll ask this until they reach the lobby, where the director himself will meet them and stab them in the thigh with a steak knife. New York Newsday calls it “A piercing indictment of violence in entertainment. I saw it twice and I’m still bleeding!” (“Othello” has been cancelled due to minimal public interest.)

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Just when you thought the last breath had been squeezed out of the bard, along came August Bailar’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The Nicaraguan director has come under fire for casting seventy-eight-year-old actor Sydney Poitier in the role of Juliet. But the public flocks to the production, proving that even ground as well worn as Shakespeare can be given new life. Bailar’s critics call his crucifixion imagery indulgent and his addition of kung-fu action sequences nonsensical. His own son, originally cast in the roles of both Romeo and Mercutio, quit the production after only two weeks, claiming that the love scenes were “too demanding.” However Bailar’s fans are unfazed by such criticism. New Yorker theater critic David Denby writes, “Bailar’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is so original, so fresh that it is unrecognizable as Shakespeare or even as theater.” (“Romeo and Juliet” will be at the Grand Sequin through November.)

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Emelio Felance has ruffled the feathers of more than a few Shakespeare purists by removing the dialogue from “King Lear” and replacing it with the original cast recording of “A Chorus Line.” The Portuguese director has also drawn criticism from the Actors’ Equity Association for casting barnyard animals in major roles. Old Soldier, who recently made a showing in the Kentucky Derby, takes the part of Lear, and Miss Margaret, a New Jersey mutton sheep, plays Cordelia. Some have embraced Felance’s vision. “Stunning,” writes Harper’s Melissa Wong. “Old Soldier is the finest Lear yet.” Others are up in arms. “This is a travesty,” laments William Temor in his New York Times review. “Everyone knows that the 1992 recording of ‘A Chorus Line’ is far superior to the original.” (“King Lear” plays through November at Cat Scratch Theater, after which you can catch Miss Margaret at Stuart Anderson’s where she will appear as a chop.)

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