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The Mysterious Life of W.J. Trumbull

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Play: "Breaking and Entering"

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About six years ago I went to see a play having its world premiere at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. It was called Breaking and Entering and I gave it a pretty harsh review. So a couple of weeks ago, when the playwright, Colin Mitchell, dropped me a note to invite me to come see it again, he made sure to add that it had been rewritten, revised, refreshed, recast, and redirected.

How could I turn down an invitation like that?

The story revolves around W.J. Trumbull, a one-book wonder reminiscent of J.D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye. Like Salinger, Trumbull has become a grumpy recluse, having retreated to his rustic hideaway in the woods. But whereas Salinger continued to write and publish, Trumbull’s one book was all he wrote. Which may explain his grumpiness.

At any rate, on a night when he is avidly listening to the seventh game of the World Series, his house is broken into by an insistent fan: an attractive young woman named Milly Smith. Initially outraged, (he calls her a “psychotic evangelical feminist”) Trumbull eventually succumbs to her charm and conversation and they engage in a dialog about truth and reality (“Reality is that which affects us,” he tells her, and “With truth comes responsibility”). Finally, she gets to the real reason for her break-in: she has written a book (“a masterpiece,” she calls it) about him.

Her book chronicles his entire life, including the current evening, and reveals secrets, and even murder, that she ostensibly would have no way of knowing. Is she a witch? A ghost? His conscience?

Director Sebastian Munoz has staged this drama in a curious way. Trumbull, played by Matthew Sklar, delivers most of his lines with his back to Milly (Katherine Canipe), who hovers close behind him, as if she were sitting on his shoulder, whispering in his ear.

Further, Munoz has allowed Sklar to deliver every line at the top of his lungs, with almost never a change in tone. He is “projecting” for the Ahmanson in a theater that is the size of a postage stamp.

For her part, Canipe is engaging, as are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee baseball announcers, Jerry Chappell and Jason Britt, who provide the comedy relief.

Playwright Colin Mitchell, who is the editor of the popular and respected online theater review magazine Bitter Lemons, has done an admirable job of rewriting, revising, and refreshing his play.

Much better, Colin. Nice work and nice writing.

Breaking and Entering can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 pm Nov. 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29 at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For tickets, call 818-202-4120.

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