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14. Because John Douglas Thompson Stole the Show—Twice

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When our economy sank in the early nineties, one of the jobs it shed was that of John Douglas Thompson, a computer salesman with health insurance, a Mercedes, and a secret yearning to act. In 1994, he finished his training at Trinity Rep, and fifteen years later, he’s had arguably the best year of any actor in New York. In February, Thompson’s bold Othello at Theatre for a New Audience brought new depth and complexity to a title role often upstaged by the villain and earned him Obie and Lortel awards. Tickets were in such high demand the production returned for a sold-out run in April. Since October at the Irish Rep, Thompson has been bringing 140 people to their feet by sweating out his soul as Brutus Jones, a chain-gang escapee turned Caribbean kleptocrat in O’Neill’s dizzying racial flashpoint of a play, The Emperor Jones. Along the way, he battles spectral demons in the form of shimmering jungle vines and masterfully designed (but low-budget) puppets. It’s the kind of performance—intelligent and internal but rapturously spontaneous—that benefits from a tiny theater (Jones transfers this week to the SoHo Playhouse, with its whopping 199 seats). Broadway traded some of its bombast for character-driven drama this year, but nowhere in New York was the art of acting on better display than the modest stages dominated by Thompson. “I’ve always felt that theater is a medium of language,” he says. “You see man’s relationship to language and to himself much more clearly when you strip things away.”


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