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Star gives royal performance in 'Emperor Jones'

"The Emperor Jones," Eugene O'Neill's 1920 daring expressionist experiment about a power-mad black American escaped convict in the Caribbean, has been considered impossible to stage - much less to take seriously. That changed earlier this fall, when Ciaran O'Reilly directed this one at the Irish Repertory Theatre with the altogether riveting John Douglas Thompson.

After a sold-out run, the 70-minute rarity has transferred to Soho with canny use of masks and hallucinatory daring. Thompson, who catapulted to Off-Broadway superstar with what I'm told was a powerfully subdued Othello last year, finds layers of heart-of-darkness grandiosity as the self-appointed island king. O'Neill's drama, mostly written in black dialect, remains less a staple than an oddity. As a showcase for an astonishing actor, however, it has muscle.

WHAT "The Emperor Jones"

WHERE Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St.

INFO $65; 212-691-1555; sohoplayhouse.com

BOTTOM LINE Showcase for rare O'Neill and a powerhouse actor.

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