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Artistically in Sync, and Reunited for ‘The Merchant of Venice’

It helps to immerse himself that way, and he likes that each version has different scholars’ notes, with possibly slightly varied text. He has even more copies of “Othello” — 16 or 17, he thinks.

Arbus, applauding the wisdom of keeping multiple editions, cited a version of “Othello” whose editor had reassigned one of Desdemona’s lines to Emilia, and in the process done away with a key to Desdemona’s character.

“You see?” Thompson marveled. “That is fascinating. From a line.”

Later, by phone, Arbus would say that part of what makes Thompson so compelling onstage is that “his nerves are closer to his skin than many people’s are, in that he’s very sensitive to the language, very sensitive to other actors.”

“It’s these big stories that I feel satisfy his soul in a way that maybe nothing else does,” she said.

But that afternoon in the rehearsal space, Thompson was talking about trust — about how he would probably say yes to doing another Shakespeare play with Arbus even before she told him which one she had in mind.

“I mean, she may say, ‘OK, it’s going to be a comedy,’” he said. “And I hate comedies. I would still do it.”

Rising ever so slightly to his bait, Arbus didn’t mention a title, just a potential role, as distant from Shylock and “The Merchant of Venice” as Shakespeare could be — the weaver-turned-ass in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“Bottom, Bottom, Bottom,” she said.

“I’d say OK,” Thompson said. “I’ll do it with Arin.”

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