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No 'Trumpet' Call; We've Heard It Before

September 08, 2000|PHILIP BRANDES

There's something familiar about William Shakespeare battling writer's block to complete a play on which the survival of his theater company depends. Not to mention confronting the chauvinistic Elizabethan convention that barred women from the stage. Unfortunately, it's a little too familiar.

Although Allan Byrns' "Trumpet to the Morn" at the Pasadena wing of the Knightsbridge Theatre strikes out in different directions from "Shakespeare in Love," the thematic overlap is an ongoing reminder of how this modest comedy falls short of the Oscar-winning film about the Bard's artistic struggles.

After opening with a bit of inventive slapstick involving the dipping of a quill and the moans of an unseen copulating couple (perfectly staged by Karesa McElheny), this play further suffers in comparison with itself. All too quickly, it settles for less outrageous fare, as a middle-aged Shakespeare (Mark Clifton) wrestles with the finale of "Hamlet." His dramatic wrong turn is corrected by Jennie (Summer Isreal) an unusually literate indentured servant girl. In this one, the more mature Shakespeare remains outside the inevitable romantic complications, which involve Jennie and a self-important young actor (Joshua Swanson) in a sweetly conventional love story.

The closest element to a romantic foil for the Bard is Thia Stephan as a courtesan with aspirations of a stage career, though a resolution is never pursued. As company actor-manager Richard Burbage, Sean McEwen lurches about in various stages of inebriation, trying to control his excitable troupe (John Duncan, Art Oden, Keith Graytan and Matthew St. James).

These enthusiastic and notably accomplished performers do their best to rescue this one from predictability; alas, it's mostly labours lost.

* "Trumpet to the Morn," Knightsbridge Theatre, 35 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 12 p.m. Ends Oct. 15. $18. (626) 440-0821. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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