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Theater : Taking on a Trio of Roles : Mazmanian's feeling for a friend's work has him acting, directing and producing.

September 10, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for Valley Life

Marius Mazmanian feels protective--and proprietary--about "Pasta."

"The only way I could see this being done properly was for me to act, direct and produce--I really didn't trust any aspect to anyone," says Mazmanian, who is indeed doing triple-duty on Tom Griffin's play, opening tonight at American Renegade Theatre. The actor-director's concern is understandable: He's been a close friend of the playwright since their student days at the University of Rhode Island in the 1960s.

"Although he's made his living as an actor till recently, even back then, Tom was starting to write," Mazmanian recalls proudly. "I knew he was going to end up on the national scene."

True enough, Griffin's stage work--including "Einstein and the Polar Bear" and "The Boys Next Door"--has received worldwide attention. Almost simultaneously with this staging of "Pasta," Griffin's newest play, "Mrs. Sedgewick's Head," will open at Rhode Island's Trinity Rep.

"Because he's an actor, Tom writes terrific, well-constructed characters," says Mazmanian. "His characters are never run-of-the-mill; they're always quirky, interesting."

In this five-character comedy, the actor-director plays Slimy, a collections agent for local bookies who comes calling on best friends Artie and Doober to collect on Artie's gambling debt.

"The whole story takes place over a couple of hours; in a brief time, their world changes," Mazmanian explains. "As a director, I get to incorporate every aspect of theater: comedy, drama, suspense, action, even a little music. It takes you through all of it. At first you say, 'Who are these people?' But then you get to know them, and you're touched by them--how they got where they are, all the connections that make us who we are."

David Cox, American Renegade artistic director, says he's pleased to have a playwright of Griffin's stature granting permission for a West Coast premiere to such a relatively young theater. Cox came across the script a few years ago and recalls it "being one of the funniest plays I'd seen in some time--and dangerous." When he read it again three months ago, his impression was reconfirmed.

"The play is really about friendship," sums up the director, who's been a member of the theater for 1 1/2 years. Born in Marseilles, France, to Armenian parents, Mazmanian immigrated to the United States in his teens. After college, Mazmanian was accepted as an equity apprentice at the prestigious Trinity Rep.

"But my goal was to come to Los Angeles to make movies," he says. "I was so foolish; I had no idea how good I had it. It took me 10 years to crack this town. And really, most of my work in TV I can call in--all those French waiters and maitre d's. So you can imagine how much fun I'm having with this play. Like all great comedies, every note is like music. It makes you laugh, it makes you think as well. It's intelligent. "

WHERE AND WHEN

* What: "Pasta."

* Location: American Renegade Theatre, 11305 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

* Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Gala openings tonight and Saturday: buffet at 7 p.m., post-show dessert with cast. Closes Oct. 17.

* Price: $12 to $15; $20 for gala opening performances.

* Call: (818) 763-4430.

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