|Buckle your seatbelts for when this turbo-testosterone charged one-act shifts from neutral into high gear, the little play that could produces maximum torque with its chilling twists and turns.
Set in an auto repair shop in Manchester, NH, actor and playwright John Pollono’s boys’ club dramedy tests the bounds of male kinship when three longtime chums meet up for a wild night. Of course, they have no idea just how wild their evening will become, but when they do, the otherwise clunky characterizations and blue collar dialogue that seemingly stalls the momentum dissolves into an ethical and moral dilemma over justice, socioeconomics and ultimate loyalty.
The show starts off cold and somewhat disorganized with unnecessary exposition save for Frank’s obvious but uncomfortable pride in his teenage daughter. There’s still some fine tuning that could be done to make the two halves of this play come off seamlessly, but as it stands, the audience is lulled into an easy complacency by virtue of the shop-talk and locker room bravado. The men exchange jibes, relive their glory days, and wax nostalgic as they near middle age—delivered in fuzzy Northeastern accents and stereotypical lingo that doesn’t altogether mesh.
More frustrating is when every emotional climax sends one of the characters into the john. The other two men are left to divulge some secret or gossip that occasionally bogs the action down. These scenes come across as an easy and unconvincing device to provide information to the audience when not all of it is particularly pertinent at the surprising and disturbing climax.
The characters are a study in contrasts, which leads to further suspense and irony in the progression of events, but can come across as a contrivance. Jon Bernthal of AMC’s The Walking Dead seems uncomfortable in the role of smooth ladies man Swaino, a sarcastic tough guy that takes aim at the runt of the group, Packie, an unemployed loser that spends his time on social networking sites while living with his grandmother, given comic appeal by Michael Redfield. John Pollono’s Frank is the tether keeping this fractured band together while struggling with his responsibilities as a single dad.
Between the three men, attitudes about women, the internet and how life has passed them by are discussed while taking shots of Johnny Walker Blue—a regular coup among these friends.
Things take a far more serious and surprising turn when Frank decides to add a little X (the drug ecstasy) to the mix—an odd choice given the drug’s effects. When Chad Walker, perfectly cast with Josh Helman in the role as a handsome Yuppie college kid with a bright future, arrives to make the drug deal, the situation goes from weird to worse. Swino and Packie good-naturedly razz Chad while he takes a drink and admits his own personal trouble with an underage girl.
From there, the play speedily propels up until its jaw dropping, cleverly shocking denouement. Pollono offers an interesting if not fascinating perspective on the dangers of the internet and the rapid ease of damaging a person’s reputation. It is the insensitive and immature actions of teens, which creates this moral crisis for all the men involved. Paradoxically, the internet (FourScore) avenges Frank’s need for justice in a disturbing scene not for the faint of heart.
Direction by Andrew Block plays up the unexpected turn of events and gives a free hand to the staging for a more naturalistic tableau. Set design by David Mauer lends an authentic, gritty ambiance, recycling much of the set pieces from “The Sunset Limited.”
“Small Engine Repair” takes awhile to warm up, but once it does, the audience is in for one helluva ride.
“Small Engine Repair”
Runs through April 30
Monday 4/11 & 4/25 at 8 pm
Fri & Sat at 10:30 pm
Sundays at 7pm
5041 Pico Boulevard
(West of La Brea)
LA, CA 90019
Tickets are $25
--M.R. Hunter (eyespylareviews[at]gmail.com)
Photos courtesy of the production
For more on theatre, or to read our latest reviews visit our ON STAGE IN LA page. To find local listings of theatres in your area please see our THEATRE or general ENTERTAINMENT page.