Best known for her puppet-filled stage adaptation of the animated feature The Lion King, a Broadway hit, Julie Taymor is much more than another talented Disney vassal. She’s been creating theater on the fringes for more than 20 years, incorporating an eclectic mix of influences. As a student she studied mime in Paris with Jacques Lecoq, theater at Oberlin with Herbert Blau, and puppetry with Peter Schumann of Bread and Puppet Theater. Taymor also put in time at Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theater and traveled to Indonesia, Japan, India, and Sri Lanka to learn Asian styles of performance and puppetry. Yet she does more than simply appropriate ideas from other cultures and artists–she synthesizes them into her own recognizable style. Even when she’s second in command–as she was when she did the choreography, costumes, masks, and puppetry for Andrei Serban’s The King Stag in 1984, adapted from Carlo Gozzi’s commedia dell’arte–her bold, beautiful, eclectic vision (and not Serban’s avant-garde direction) is what makes the production remarkable. Gozzi’s 18th-century fable, about a king who’s tricked by an evil minister into sending his soul into a stag, is a perfect vehicle for Taymor’s experiments with half masks, Indonesian shadow puppetry, and wildly expressive costumes–the villain looks like a huge bat. What’s surprising is not that The King Stag has been touring off and on for the last 16 years–it’s that this production marks the first time any of Taymor’s work has been staged here. Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-902-1500. November 24 through 26: Friday, 7:30 PM; Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $24-$44.

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Feldman.