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STAGE REVIEW : A Barrage of One-Liners in ‘Trollope’

Did Paul Revere invent Revereware? Did his wife ever wish she had married Mr. Tupper instead? If the 1812 Overture had been written in 1774, would it have been futuristic?

Fractured footnotes, puns and jocular jibes. That’s all you get from “The Scandalous Adventures of Sir Toby Trollope,” at San Diego Repertory Theatre.

Perhaps one expects too much from Low Moan Spectacular, the crackerjack team of Ron House and Alan Shearman that brought us “El Grande de Coca Cola” and “Bullshot Crummond.”

But after the smoke of one-liners, consummately delivered, has cleared, one is left wondering what was that masked play that streaked across the stage in three--yes, three--hours and two intermissions. The uncomfortable feeling is that dessert would be much improved with a main course.

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The plot, such as it is, takes Sir Toby Trollope, a low-life confidence man in 1774, and sets him on a journey to gain his fortune by marrying off his half-wit son, Bartholomew, to Fanny, an impressionable young woman of wealth.

Fanny, who relies on the advice of her lascivious aunt and an imaginary friend, comes from a family of Tories. Trollope, whose plans inevitably backfire, flees after offending the father, and falls into the hands of Revolutionaries.

He ends up in the cross fire without a point of view other than a desire to make a buck. And, sadly for the play, a point of view is something he never obtains--at least not convincingly. It’s almost as if the British and American team of House and Shearman canceled out whatever positions they might have on the American Revolution. And without a sense of underlying humanity to flesh out the roles, the jokes have little resonance or force.

The actors--marvelous all--play a variety of parts, although most excel at one. Rodger Bumpass steals the show as the priggish Jonathan Pitcairn (Bartholomew’s mewlish rival for Fanny’s hand) and the henpecked Paul Revere (who has one of the best comic bits as the fast-talking pots and pans salesman, throwing in a Minuteman Knife free if you act now to place your special order).

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House and Shearman provide a solid backbone to this horseplay with their portrayals of Trollope (House) and Bartholomew (Shearman). They offer everything comedically, except heart. Melinda Peterson alone manages to blend in poignancy with irresistibly vivacious comic delivery as the hapless Fanny. Ron Vernan flusters and blusters with feeling as Gov. Percival Pettifogg-Leafe, the man who runs to France to escape Colonial unrest because, after all, “revolution is so declasse there.”

Anna Mathias is nothing less than delicious as the amply endowed aunt with the wandering hands. William Dennis Hunt is at his prickly best as Fanny’s bloodthirsty father, who is positively let down when a foe dies before he has a chance to personally liberate his blood from his body.

Under Steven Rothman’s direction, the best moments come when the ensemble uses synchronized motion on the handsome, versatile Colonial set by Fred M. Duer and Alan K. Okazaki. Bouncing together on a deftly arranged pile of boxes, they convey everything from a swaying ship to a racing carriage. Then, just below the main stage, a spread of blue sheets part for a man to fall in and later be rescued at sea.

The lighting by John B. Forbes enhances each effect. In David Kay Mickelsen’s elaborately comic costumes, male preening matches female preening bow to bow, powder to powder and wig to wig.

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But the sound design by Jon Gottlieb sometimes gets ahead of itself. Discordant music pipes in between scenes, before the narration explains that Bartholomew writes horrible music--which, in essence, puts punch line before setup. Still, the confusion is minor considering that hardly anyone in this play, beyond Toby, has much of a reason for doing anything.

This paucity of purpose ultimately leaves “The Scandalous Adventures of Sir Toby Trollope” as nothing more revealing than Ron and Alan’s excellent adventure. It’s about as subtle as a kick to the groin--of which there is no shortage. And while their tale of the American Revolution gets laughs, that’s all it gets.

As they say in the play, start this revolution without me.

At the San Diego Repertory Theatre, Horton Plaza, in San Diego, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m., with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2. Ends Aug. 19. Tickets: $14-$22; (619) 235-8025.

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