Review: SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Smacks Hard and Funny

John Pollono's terrific new play, Small Engine Repair starts off as one of those genial, amusing comedies that scores some solid laughs as its working class characters, edging close to 40, shoot the breeze, drink too much and deny how disappointingly their lives have turned out since high school. But just when you're wondering whether or not the 70-minute piece is going anywhere, it switches gears with a fast and hard entrance into the danger zone.

Review:  SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Smacks Hard and FunnyThe play's thickly-accented New Englanders live in "Manch-Vegas," the tongue-in-cheek nickname residents of Manchester, New Hampshire give their decidedly non-glitzy town.

Set designer Richard Hoover creates a fully-detailed rendering of the organized chaos that is Frank's Small Engine Repair Shop. The playwright himself takes on the role of Frank; a self-made businessman who learned to grow up fast when he became a teenage dad. The shop's advertising sign features the smiling face of his daughter when she was a little girl.

His two buddies aren't quite as responsible. Packie (a hyper-geeky James Ransone) is unemployed, lives in his grandmother's basement and spends most of his time perfecting his social media skills. Self-professed ladies man Swaino (slick and appropriately repulsive James Badge Dale) gets his kicks from bedding women in their early 20s who are too inexperienced to know what a lousy lay he is.

Review:  SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Smacks Hard and FunnyThe first clues that Frank has something darker in mind than just a night hanging out with his old pals are the lies he uses to get them both to come over. To say much more would be giving away a lot. Their aggressively sexist and homophobic banter, as well as their one-upmanship regarding physical prowess, sexual experience and knowledge of modern technology, intensifies with every whiskey shot. The fire seriously heats up with the arrival of Chad (Keegan Allen), a college student drug dealer from a privileged family.

The danger of easy communication through the Internet, especially when thoughtless actions cause life-changing harm, is a subject that gets quickly pushed to the forefront. When the situation turns violent, Pollono's sneakily adds comic twists that get laughs without diluting any tension.

Under Jo Bonney's direction, the excellent ensemble maneuvers through the rhythmic and profanity-laden text; engaging in their portrayals of the sad, pathetic men. Pollono doesn't give us any reason to like them, but he sure offers a thrilling ride with the boys at a safe distance.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: John Pollono and James Ransone; Bottom: John Pollono and James Ransone.

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Michael Dale After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.