Theater: Dimming Shakespeare's Glories

Briton Kenneth Branagh bows in Los Angeles, with mixed results

When Britain's new and little-known Renaissance troupe was booked to play King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the nine-week run sold out before the first preview. The draw: the U.S. stage debut of the company's founder, Kenneth Branagh, 28. His gutsy current film of Henry V has won him comparison to Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier. As he did in the film, Branagh onstage would triple as impresario, director and star -- with the fillip of featuring his wife of five months, Emma Thompson, as Midsummer's willowy Helena and Lear's gnarled Fool....

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