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Quirky `Pasta' is a full-course meal.

Byline: Paul Kolas

COLUMN: THEATER REVIEW

STURBRIDGE - Tom Griffin's "Pasta" is emphatically not going to be everyone's cup of theatrical tea. It defies comedic convention in strange and quirky ways. It traffics in dark undercurrents that yield edgy and nervous humor. Non sequitur dialogue is dispensed with repetitive abandon. The basic plot is hardly more than a trifle. And yet, Stageloft Repertory Theater, under director Edward Cornely's interpretive skill, made this weird little play blaze with memorable insanity on Saturday night with five performances that crackle and sizzle with unwavering inventiveness and breathless precision. It may be the best ensemble acting seen in local community theater this year.

On paper, "Pasta" seems lightweight indeed, especially when measured against the gravitas of Griffin's searing, exhaustive "The Boys Next Door." But "Pasta" has its own unique and bruising (at one point literal) punch. The setting is the Providence apartment of Artie (Mark Axelson) and his girlfriend, Roxanne (Stacie Beland). Artie and his best pal, "Doober" (Jeremy Woloski), are rehearsing a skit for the annual jingle contest that Artie's pasta company puts on, Artie dressed as a box of ziti, while Doober flashes his belly button through his box of vermicelli. Artie has a gambling addiction that has him owing $4,300 of an $8,000 debt to an offstage bookie (Ernesto Mal) for losing horseracing bets. Mal's henchman, Slimy (Neal Martel), keeps showing up at Artie's door to collect the money with threatening undertones.

Fearful for his well-being, Artie hopes his grandfather's stamp collection is worth the money he owes, which is meticulously scrutinized by the most bizarre philatelist, Walter (Tina Pugliese), to ever grace a stage. What makes "Pasta" intriguing and involving isn't whether Artie will avoid reprisal by Slimy and Ernesto, but rather by the odd dynamics that go on between the characters. From the opening moments you know this isn't going to be a sitcom level of social intercourse. Doober, whose real name is Dwayne, wakes up from an overnight at Artie's place, and keeps repeating to Roxanne how he would have met her last night if he'd shown up before midnight. People talk as if they don't listen to each other when in fact they do. When Artie is told by Doober that Slimy came by looking for him while he was out, Artie avoids a direct response to that unpleasant news by deflecting the conversation to other topics, only to finally address it in a burst of fear and anger. Artie tells Doober that he met Roxanne at the laundry. She tells Doober they really met in Paris, then admits it was the laundry.

While assessing the value of the stamps, Walter babbles with spectacular semi-coherence to Roxanne about whatever comes to mind, including memories of her father and a dating experience. Just as she's getting chummy enough with Roxanne to ask her to go to a restaurant with her sometime, Roxanne asks her if she's done evaluating the stamps. Walter turns on her with a booming "I never mix business with pleasure!" and retracts the dinner invitation, only to have Roxanne retaliate with a nasty opinion of her father. Slimy slithers through the oblique exchanges with the single-minded purpose of getting his money.

The acting by all couldn't be better. Woloski teeters and bumbles his way through the role of Doober like a bumper car gone wild, delivering his non sequiturs with masterful timing. Axelson is a marvelous, quicksilver combination of high anxiety, cowering submission, and blustery charisma as Artie. Martel makes a playfully, delightfully malevolent Slimy, toying with Doober, Artie, and Roxanne artfully like a cat with a cageful of canaries. Beland invests Roxanne

a wide range of gestures and emotions, moving effortlessly from furtive to sardonic to defiant. Just watch her facial expressions as she's reacting to Walter's screeching autobiographical litany. That is if you dare take your eyes off Pugliese's extraordinary arsenal of facial and vocal tics. Her Walter is a singular creature born from the depths of the subconscious, inhabiting a realm exclusively her own. As does "Pasta."

`Pasta'

* * * *

By Tom Griffin, directed by Edward Cornely. Presented by Stageloft Repertory Theater, 450A Main St., Sturbridge. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through Aug. 10. Tickets: $16 adults, $14 seniors 65+, $8 students 14 and younger. For information and reservations, call (508) 347-9005 or visit www.stageloft.com. With Mark Axelson, Jeremy Woloski, Stacie Beland, Neal Martel and Tina Pugliese.

Key to the Stars

* * * * ... Hot Stuff

* * * ... Good Job

* * ... Not Bad

* ... Never Mind
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Theater review
Date:Jul 22, 2008
Words:757
Previous Article:Soulful Susan Werner.
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