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Shakespeare’s 'King Lear,' Starring Sheep

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Although there is surely no shortage of Shakespearean actors in England, one theatrical production has decided to avoid the usual audition process for its rendition of King Lear, instead opting for a decidedly unconventional option to fill the roles: sheep. Director Missouri Williams’ aptly titled King Lear With Sheep has forgone a casting call in favor of employing eight reluctant animal participants to “act” alongside one presumably very patient human actor.

As modern reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s work take increasingly imaginative turns—refer to Baz Luhrmann’s tale of two warring mafia families, Romeo + Juliet ; an adapted Twelfth Night starring then-"America’s sweetheart" Amanda Bynes; and countless stagings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a Jazz Age, 1960s, trailer park, or hipster twists—the idea of King Lear played by sheep nearly seems like a logical next step. Williams’ vision for the show, however, doesn’t simply rely on its non-human participants as a gimmick. Instead, King Lear With Sheep is a play about a play, the story of one frustrated director driven gradually to madness by the non-compliance of his bleating cast members.

According to producer Lucie Elven, King Lear With Sheep encountered as many obstacles as one might expect before making it from farm to stage. Apparently, it’s not easy to find sheep for hire in central London. The fledgling production’s saving grace was “a 20-year-old freelance farmer named Josh,” who offered the services of eight ewes, “hardened doyennes of the farm” accustomed to interacting with audiences on frequent visits to local schools. Now, Josh's sheep are ready for their big break. To pay the sheep’s (or rather, the farmer’s) fees, Williams took on evening shifts at a pub and began teaching English to foreign students. Alasdair Saksena, the brave or possibly foolish actor playing the fictional play’s director, valiantly fought off his allergies. All of them became well-acquainted with their ovine colleagues’ urine.

Over the course of the rehearsal period, the human cast and crew were spared the usual drama of competing actors’ egos, but had to contend instead with pregnancies, birthing, and shearing. This unpredictability left much of the “casting” process up to fate: the fattest sheep naturally won the role of Lear, the most docile was chosen for Cordelia, and the two most disheveled were cast as Kent and Gloucester. Although, none of the sheep had learned their lines by opening night, nor are they expected to take their roles any more seriously by the start of the show’s next run in August. Recent reviews have painted the show as “deliriously absurd and haunting,” and an “uncategorizable delight.”

King Lear With Sheep is essentially a one-man show carried off with aplomb. As the director flails and shouts and desperately attempts to herd his cast into some semblance of Shakespearean order, the audience witnesses a descent into insanity that is intended to mirror King Lear’s own fate. The success of his portrayal will be up to audiences to decide, but the show can guarantee at least one thing: “Sheep! In tiny costumes!

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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