PICK 1 TO 10? Its not what we do, its what we are. Thats how Sydney McCormack (Alice Ensor), the accomplished artistic director of an L.A. Equity Waiver company, defines her passion for the theater. She abhors artists who use the stage as a launch pad for a film career and even rejects the résumés of actors with commercial rather than theatrical agents. But when Sydney hires Ericka Hunter (Amy Rilling) as her assistant artistic director, the young and promising Yale grad endures Sydneys purist and often demeaning rhetoric in order to learn from the best, while risking her own self-confidence and formidable screenplay. While neither Sydney nor Ericka is a real winner, Max Rileys funny and thought-provoking work offers insight on both sides of the ongoing theater-versus-TV/film dilemma that can decimate a local 99-seat theaters ensemble. Under Marcario Gaxiolas sturdy direction, Ensor is haunting as Sydney, a woman who strikes fear in her minions but whose own fears may eventually consume her. Rillings Ericka is more cipher than character, more a consequence of Rileys play than her performance, but Jim OHeir is a delight as Sydneys devoted production assistant Ross, who serves as lovable referee between two determined and all too human women. The Theater District, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m.; thru March 25. (323) 957-2343. (Martín Hernández)
THE TROJAN PIE In writer-director William Moreings farce, an appetizing apple pie rests on a table. Inside it is a bomb, which sends the Daughters of Decency, a womens organization dedicated to protecting kids from sex and evolution, into a panic about protecting the senator of Troy and finding the baker (Meeghan Holaway as a spinster while channeling Wednesday Addams). And so the ladies icy Chapter President Marsha (Rende Rae Norman), genteel Daphne (Lynne Marta), hungry Fay (Stephanie McVay), and Leda (Diane Frank), the mother of the home-ec terrorist plus brash outsider Iris (a hilarious Mary Gillis) take to the phones and each others necks. Meanwhile, Daphne and Ledas near-comatose grandfather (Hugo DeWitt) randomly pops alive like a cuckoo clock to spout lines from The Iliad. Moreings outlandish script has potential but his staging wobbles between arch stiffness and sitcom flailing. And as the comedys setting is 1984, while these Trojan Women bewail the destruction of their conservative world, we know all too well their civilization will rise again. Puzzlebox Productions at the LILLIAN THEATRE, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 18. (323) 960-7784. (Amy Nicholson)
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ORESTES REMEMBERED: THE FURY PROJECT Adapter-director Katharine Noons ensemble-created visit back to the House of Atreus has been baking in workshops for almost a year, and its still not quite ready. But its close and worth a look, even if you do get slammed by a disconcertingly hot blast when opening the oven door. The production picks up where Noons 2001 Clyt at Home: The Clytemnestra Project left off. Among many high points is Ronnie Clarks Orestes, full of bluster and power, and an emotional wreck from having killed his mother, Clytemnestra, to avenge her murder of his father, General Agamemnon, to avenge his sacrifice of their daugher, Iphigenia, for favorable sea winds en route to the Trojan War. Orestes guilt is exacerbated by the hauntings of three Furies, like midtown aunties in heels and bags one benign (Kelsey Barney), another (Julie Lockhart) caught in the middle ground between understanding Orestes motive and railing against him, and the matronly third (Cathy Carlton), a fuming, flask-toting cauldron of impeccably delivered sarcasm. This is probably enough for an allegory of primal significance about the distinction between vengeance and justice. As our world grows smaller, what are the consequences of ancient war codes that cry out for the honor and duty of revenge? However, Noon and dramaturg Bryan Davidson give equal focus to a faux democracy thats actually rigged by the Goddess Athena (Brian Weir in drag hasnt 20 years of men in dresses exhausted that irony of gender and power?). A public election to determine Orestes fate ends up in a tie, so the decision gets thrown to the Supreme Court, so to speak. The problem lies not with the existence of this subplot, but with its emphasis. Though its also in the ancient legend, in this production, its overexplained, while its rude mechanics clash with the haunting beauty of Orestes growing insanity. Maureen Weiss fold-out ramshackle-house set comes packed with metaphors, Cricket Myers sound design rumbles and explodes with both latent menace and shock. And Sarah Broyles almost campy costumes have marvelously unifying tones of black and white. Ghost Road Company at the POWERHOUSE THEATRE, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (no perf March 11); thru March 31. (866) 633-6246. (Steven Leigh Morris)