Venice locals Bart DeLorenzo and Amanda Troop explore Jesus, Queen Elizabeth and Hitler at the Odyssey Theatre

By Michael Aushenker

Venice actress Amanda Troop portrays Mary Magdalene in “Passion Play”

Venice actress Amanda Troop portrays Mary Magdalene in “Passion Play”

Location isn’t just important in real estate.

Thanks in part to their shared Venice neighborhood, actress Amanda Troop will perform in director Bart DeLorenzo’s “Passion Play,” which debuts Saturday at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles.

Last year DeLorenzo sought to audition Troop on the strength of two other plays she had appeared in at the Odyssey, “A Splintered Soul” (2007) and “What the Butler Saw” (2011), but called only to find Troop was headed out of town the next morning.

When it came up that they both lived in Venice, DeLorenzo raced over to the house for an impromptu audition, which Troop nailed.

In DeLorenzo’s Los Angeles debut of Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl’s “Passion Play,” three acting troupes collide with history as they perform the traditional reenactment of the trial, suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

In the first act, performers at a production in 16th-century England face a crackdown on Catholics by Queen Elizabeth. In the second, Adolf Hitler attends a show in Nazi Germany during World War II. The third act, DeLorenzo said, follows an American cast from the Vietnam War era to the Reagan administration.

Troop plays the role of Mary Magdalene, a disciple who loyally stayed at Jesus’ side as he faced crucifixion, in all three acts.

The focus of “Passion Play,” however, is actually the trials and tribulations transpiring beneath the surface of those portraying the passion.

“It’s not about the religious aspect, but the actors’ imperfect lives,” Troop said.

Tonally, “Passion Play” splits the difference of comedy and drama.

“It’s definitely between the two,” said DeLorenzo, adding he found intrigue in how “elements of religion work on our lives. If you play Jesus, how does that affect your behavior?”

Troop has been involved with the theater since appearing in a Naples Players production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” as a little girl growing up in Florida.

“There’s a lot of theater in Los Angeles, and it’s a myth to say there is not,” said Troop, who has frequented Pacific Resident Theater in Venice and Rogue Machine in Los Angeles. “They do really good stuff.”

But there’s also the television work. Troop’s TV credits include the soap “General Hospital,” the oddball comedy “Children’s Hospital” and the FX series “Wilfred” — in which she has appeared three times as a receptionist at the Elijah Wood character’s law office.

Troop, who moved from Santa Monica to Venice with her husband in 2006,  has also done voiceover work, including what she calls “walla-walla” duty — looping the voices of background characters in crowd scenes —  on “The Simpsons.”

She finds it vital to remain actively acting between film and television roles.

“With television, there’s a repetition of scenes. You’re part of a larger group — a machine, so to speak — where each person and crew member is part of this larger entity. In a play, you don’t have that. When you’re finally performing, there’s a flow to a story. You tell the whole story at once. You get to stay deeply in your character for a while,” she continued.

One of Troop’s most interesting and exhausting acting gigs came about two years ago with “Car Plays,” a round robin-style series of plays within cars parked atop a parking structure, performed for two or three people at a time, in which the people rotate through a row of cars’ back seats.

DeLorenzo, artistic director of the Evidence Room theater company, has directed several Odyssey/Evidence Room co-productions —“Annapurna,” “Ivanov,” “Margo Veil,” “The Receptionist”— as well as plays at the Odyssey (“Day Drinkers,” “A Number”).

“Passion Play” is not DeLorenzo’s first brush with Ruhl. Four years ago, he had staged Ruhl’s “Dead Man’s Cellphone” for South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

For “Passion Play,” he went by his instincts signing Troop on the spot and expresses no regrets — “She’s really funny!” DeLorenzo said.

“Audiences are in for a great time,” he said. “It’s a real experience. You’ll come out feeling renewed, refreshed and thinking differently about your life.”

“Passion Play” premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday and continues through March 16 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $25 to $30, or $45 for opening day. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit odysseytheatre.com. §

michael(at)argonautnews.com

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