Miniature doppelgangers and counter-gender casting are among the novelties offered in this psychosexual drama written and directed by Caitlin Bower, which begins as a critique of cult religions but evolves into something even darker and more complex. Fraying manager Dan (Thaddeus Shafer) employs a motley crew at his faltering puppet factory, which becomes a bunker when — assuming the grandiose persona Lord Blackberry — he declares it the last haven against a forthcoming armageddon. The key to saving humanity, the Lord assures his new acolytes, lies in ritually reenacting his sister's rescue from the predations of a pervert at a long-ago birthday party. The play recovers from a clumsy exposition to inch forward and inward, peeling away layers until we come to the root of Blackberry's pathology. The puppets serve as useful stand-ins for Blackberry's unwillingness to confront his own demons. The show's mood and themes could benefit from ruthless abridgment into a one-act, but the story's depth, led by Shafer's tortured, riveting performance, overcomes the structural problems. Illyrian Players founder Carly D. Weckstein sneaks up on the audience with her delicate portrayal of Nicky, the androgynous object of Dan's desire. As devoted assistant Simor, Kelsey Ritter captures the troubling efficiency of the servant who outstrips his master. The Illyrian Players @ The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through March 24.

Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: March 8. Continues through March 24, 2013

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