From the dawn of history, Western civilization has idolized the heroes of "The Iliad." But according to Chuck Faerber's "Greeks 6 -- Trojans 5," a joyless romp in the (collapsed) vein of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," the Greeks actually owe their victory in the Trojan War to one-dimensional stooges.
At the start of this world premiere at Whitefire Theatre, King Agamemnon (David Zurak) explains that he's looking for the biggest cowards in Greece to infiltrate Troy in the wooden horse. Yes, cowards: Heroes would want to storm the palace. Only wimps can be counted on, once inside, to make a beeline for the city gate, where they'll let in the waiting army.
It's a promising setup, especially when Cnessen the "chronicler" (Corey Rieger), known professionally as Homer, joins the mission.
But then the cowards arrive, a grab bag of dated one-liners on legs: Effeminate Corinthian (Geoffrey Kennedy), whose preening and ogling would have seemed stale in 1965. Tough-talking Megamanus (John Marzilli), who becomes paralyzed (literally, ha-ha) by stress. A "token broad" (Cheryl Bricker). Three named Smegma, Mucilage and Uselles.
The assembly of the team is drawn out to epic length by tedious ribaldry, waggish anachronisms (a map on an animal skin is a "power pelt presentation"), wince-inducing puns and indifferent song-and-dance numbers (also written by Faerber). Oddly, instead of telling his soldiers what to do, Agamemnon disguises himself as a priest (beard, robe, inexplicable accent) and frightens them with auguries of doom.
The result is suspense -- not for the audience, unfortunately, but for the characters, whom we must watch trotted in and out of cumbersome misunderstandings before, during and even after their quest, until we fear that we are subjects in a sociological experiment designed to test the limits of human civility.
At least the actors, under Richard Kuhlman's dogged direction, appear to be enjoying themselves. But this Trojan horse, unlike the original, probably won't bring victory to anybody involved.
"Greeks 6 -- Trojans 5." Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 8. $25. (323) 960-7774 or www.plays411.com. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.