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A Comedic Gamble : This production of 'Pasta,' although looking dated, takes every chance to turn its characters into recognizable people.

September 17, 1993|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — They don't write plays like Tom Griffin's "Pasta" anymore. First produced by New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre in 1982, it looks a bit dated today, even as it stands as a cheerful example of the wild and crazy, and usually empty-headed, comedy that abounded in theater in the '70s and early '80s.

In a well-tempered production at North Hollywood's American Renegade Theatre, director Marius Mazmanian is wise enough to take full advantage of the genre's manic textual asides, pointless past events recounted by the characters and the silly, sitcom theatricality of much of its action.

Artie (R. J. Bonds) has a problem. He owes $4,300 to his bookie Ernesto, who dresses strangely when he gets "fraught." Ernesto has sent Slimy (director Mazmanian) to collect. Unfortunately, Artie's only remaining resource is a book of rare stamps he inherited from his grandfather. Fine. Slimy will be back later with a stamp expert.

Meanwhile, Artie's friend and ex-co-worker Doober (Paul Roache) has shown up to appear with him in the annual company talent show, which complicates things because Doober isn't very bright since he's the comic relief in this comedy, and keeps opening his mouth at the wrong time.

The only way Griffin's play can work today is to play it with the style of its time, trying to find enough character in the characters to turn them into recognizable real people. The director and his company give it every chance.

As the hit man who would just as soon slash an adversary with his razor ring as look at him, Mazmanian keeps Slimy's one note a viable ingredient, at the same time imbuing him with a slight sense of humor that rounds out the stereotype. Nancy Hammill, as Artie's girlfriend Roxanne, also finds more in her energetic performance than Griffin has written.

Doober is a difficult role, involving lines that would tax any actor, but Roache carries it off with enough panache and honesty to get justified laughs throughout. Jeanette O'Connor gets laughs, too, as Walter, the stamp expert (one of her long monologues explains why she's called Walter), but the laughter is at rather than with her, in a performance typical of those bygone days when dem rollin' eyes and overboard readings were par for the course.

Bonds, as Artie, gives the most solid performance. There's something going on in Artie's mind that keeps his feet planted on firm ground while Bonds' high-energy comic sense ricochets around Melody Boyd Harrop's appropriately modest apartment setting.

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. Ends Oct. 17. Price: $12 to $15. Call: (818) 763-4430.

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