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Paul Rogers, 96; versatile British stage actor

Paul Rogers was Pandarus in “Troilus and Cressida.”

NEW YORK TIMES/File 1957

Paul Rogers was Pandarus in “Troilus and Cressida.”

NEW YORK — Paul Rogers — an actor who came to fame as a versatile Shakespearean in his native England and later won a Tony award on Broadway in Harold Pinter’s harrowing family drama, “The Homecoming” — died Oct. 6 in London at 96.

With leading-man good looks, an uncommon diligence in preparing for a role, and a fervid curiosity that led him across the breadth of the Shakespeare canon, Mr. Rogers spent his early career largely with the Old Vic company, first in Bristol and later in London, compiling a resume of remarkable variety.

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His roles were broadly comic — Falstaff in “Henry IV” (Parts 1 and 2) and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — and grandly tragic: he was King Lear and Macbeth, Leontes in “A Winter’s Tale,” Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” Brutus and Cassius in “Julius Caesar,” Iago in “Othello,” Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” and Petruchio in “Taming of the Shrew.”

In 1956, Mr. Rogers traveled with the company to Broadway, where his stamina and versatility were tested in four plays staged in repertory during a three-month sojourn. He was Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” John of Gaunt in “Richard II,” the title role in “Macbeth,” and Pandarus in “Troilus and Cressida.”

“Macbeth” was the third of the plays to open.

“Not having put on a new production since the two they mounted last week, the Old Vic actors performed ‘Macbeth’ at the Winter Garden last evening,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in his review in The New York Times. “Performed it very well, moreover.”

Although he had also acted in more contemporary works — notably in two plays in verse by T.S. Eliot, “The Confidential Clerk,” and “The Elder Statesman” — Mr. Rogers branched out further during the 1960s. In 1965 he originated the role of Max, the seethingly vicious patriarch of a warped household, in the “The Homecoming.” He continued in the part when the production, directed by Peter Hall for the Royal Shakespeare Company, moved to New York in 1967. It won the Tony for best play, and Mr. Rogers took home the best-actor award. (He reprised the role in a 1973 film directed by Hall and starring much of the Broadway cast.)

Mr. Rogers was born in Plympton, Devon, in the west of England. His father was a school headmaster.

After joining the Colchester Repertory Theater, he left to serve in the Royal Navy in World War II.

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