Photo by Kirsten Lara Getchell

JILLIAN ARMENANTE IS A BIG WOMAN. SHE'S BIG on television's Judging Amy, which also suggests how funny she is. She was also big parading in boots and grabbing superb reviews as butch orphan Melanie in Peter Parnall's touring stage version of The Cider House Rules. “I went unsuccessfully to many schools,” she explains about her stage training. “I studied yoga, and they couldn't graduate me.”

Armenante is the larger half of what may be the wittiest and most dynamic pairing in local theater since Penn and Teller first appeared at the Whitefire Theater. Her partner of seven years, Alice Dodd, is a beautiful, svelte brunette — like Armenante, a writer and actor. Together, they resemble a lesbian Abbott and Costello.

They met when Armenante was performing in Cider House, and when she stopped touring four years later, they realized they didn't really know each other. “We jokingly thought that now that the show's over, Jillian's going to be different,” Dodd explains. “But she wasn't really — the turtle, the hard shell, the soft underbelly. . .”

“Yeah, you flip me over and I can't get up,” quips Armenante.

The couple settled in L.A. with other Seattle expats in Circle X Theater Company, which staked a claim on Los Angeles with its whimsical 1998 production of Glen Berger's comedy about lunatic inventors, Great Men of Science, Nos 21 & 22. Armenante directed; Dodd was a featured player.

Since then, the pair have taken to writing their own vehicles. Two years ago, under Armenante's direction, Dodd played the unnamed heroine in their own amalgam of their best-loved gothic films and novels, In Flagrante Gothicto (also through Circle X). Then they reunited artistically for Circle X's latest effort, Laura Comstock's Bag-Punching Dog, a feminist musical fantasia about early-20th-century filmmaking and the difference between “those who create and those who do a lot of handshaking,” who gets remembered and why. Their fringe musical has received much acclaim, with the L.A. Times making a rare excursion out on a limb to laud the musical's “Broadway potential.”

“Doing theater is like building a snowman in Hawaii,” Armenante ruminates. “No matter how hard you work, it always melts away. But you have to have that moment when you stick the carrot in — no, too dirty — when you stick the raisins on, and it's all worthwhile.”

Laura Comstock's Bag-Punching Dog is being performed by Circle X Theater Company at the 24th Street Theater, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m., through September 15. (323) 461-6069.

LA Weekly