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PROFILE : Father Figure : With his kids grown, Pete Trama is pursuing his dream of acting. He deals with AIDS and cancer as the agonized dad in 'Take Away.'

April 01, 1993|JAMES GILDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Why does a 50-something former Navy man drive from Ventura all the way to Hollywood to act in a play about AIDS?

Well, for one thing, said Ventura County stage veteran Pete Trama, because he lives in Ventura. But, lately, Trama spends much of his time in L. A. in rehearsals, performances, classes and auditions in hopes of becoming that rare Hollywood creature: the working actor.

Familiar to county theatergoers for his roles in Santa Paula Theater Center productions of "All My Sons," "Born Yesterday," "Major Barbara" and "Voices of the Prairie," as well as Firelight Dinner Theater's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," Trama has always had an interest in acting, but never had the time to pursue it. The basics, like supporting a family, took precedence over artistic fulfillment.

But now the children are raised and Trama, clutching a recently secured Screen Actors Guild card, is venturing forth into the competitive world of professional acting.

He has managed thus far to parlay his skill and perseverance into a small recurring role on the television soap "The Bold and the Beautiful," and two years ago, he was featured in a TV movie, "She Woke Up," with Lindsay Wagner.

Trama is now appearing at the 75-seat American New Theater in Hollywood in a Mojo Ensemble production of "Take Away."

He read for the role of the father, Tony, in William DeAcutis' new, semi-autobiographical play.

"I loved this play right away. I read it for DeAcutis and he looked at me and said, 'You are my father,' " Trama said. "Hell, all Sicilian fathers are the same."

In "Take Away," Trama's character is confronted with situations he cannot deal with. His gay son, lover in tow, spends a day with the family. Trama's character is so self-absorbed in his own struggle with cancer that he does not or cannot recognize the obvious.

When talk turns to hospitals and illness, father and son try to skirt the issue, each for different reasons--father because of denial about his terminal illness, son because his lover has AIDS.

Two weeks after the first reading in 1991, the playwright died from complications of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Less than 36 hours after his death, the play had its first staged reading before an invited audience.

DeAcutis "was the first person I ever met who I knew had AIDS, " Trama said. That was nearly two years ago. Since then, Trama has seen other people he knows die.

"I was in 'Major Barbara' with a kid, Dan Hiatt, who was full of life. Now he's no longer around," taken by AIDS, Trama said. "I hope this play will enlighten people. We shouldn't be frightened. . . . We should be aware."

* WHERE AND WHEN

'Take Away" at American New Theater, 1540 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Show times 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through April 4. Call (213) 960-1604.

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