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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Small Engine Repair

Also see Sharon's review of The Elephant Man

Michael Redfield, John Pollono and
Jon Bernthal

It isn't easy to review the world-premiere one-act Small Engine Repair without giving it all away. Because what is really good about the piece, and what is questionable about it, all fall under the heading of spoilers.

Here's the set-up. A small (small engine) repair shop in Manchester, New Hampshire. The shop's owner, Frank (in his thirties) has invited his two best friends from youth over for the evening. The invitations went out under false pretenses. He told tough-guy Swaino that he was having strippers over; he told wussier Packie that he was suffering from cancer. Neither is true. But beyond getting Swaino and Packie to mend fences over whatever stupid thing has been keeping them apart, it isn't really clear why Frank wants to connect with his two bestest buddies tonight. But since he's got a fridge full of beer and a $200 bottle of Scotch, the boys aren't asking too many questions.

Instead, the conversation flows, as it does between guys. They reminisce a little, they talk about women a little, they even compare who has the best cell phone. (And, in an amusing repeating bit, whenever the conversation starts getting a little heavy, one of them suddenly has the urge to use the bathroom.) It's well-written and well-played, revealing to the audience, in a very natural manner, these three guys and how they interact. Frank (John Pollono, also the playwright) has always been the leader of the group; Swaino (Jon Bernthal) is the smart-ass; and Packie (Michael Redfield) has always known he's the number three guy in this trio.

And then there's the fourth guy—well, he's not a "guy" at all, not in the working-class Manchester sense. He's a preppy college kid named Chad. Frank has asked him over to buy some ecstasy off of him. But since the drugs, once purchased, are soon forgotten, you might start to question whether Chad was invited under false pretenses as well.

And ... that's about all I can tell you. Once everyone figures out why they're there, the play picks up speed and intensity, careening rather quickly through the very dark and the very funny (sometimes simultaneously). I am reminded, actually, of when I went to a late-night talk show taping, and the warm-up comic told off-color jokes until such time as that internal censor in everyone's head went off-duty, and we stopped thinking, "That's gross!" and simply thought, "That's pretty damned funny." Small Engine Repair needs its audience to get to that point—and all of the preliminary back-and-forth between Frank and his pals serves to loosen the audience up so that we each feel like one of the guys, and don't even flinch when the topics get crude.

If you pay attention, you'll figure out why everyone is there several minutes before they do. (Chad gets it faster than Swaino and Packie; his reaction is the turning point in the play, and very effectively played.) A second key fact also makes its way into audience consciousness minutes before the guys catch on. I appreciate that Pollono, as playwright, has played fair with the audience and given us all the tools we need to put things together, but he either needs to be a little more subtle with the clue-dropping, or to have his characters think a bit faster. In a play like this one, having the audience wait for the characters to catch up with it kills the pace. (It's OK for a few seconds, because the anticipation itself is entertaining, but it shouldn't be drawn out.) Other than that, though, Small Engine Repair is a very well-constructed ride.

Small Engine Repair runs through April 30th at TheatreTheater on Pico. For tickets and information see

Rogue Machine presents the world premiere of Small Engine Repair by John Pollono. Producer Jennifer Riley; Producer John Perrin Flynn; Associate Producer Corryn Cummins; Production Design David Mauer; Stage Managers Brenda Davidson & Daniel Coronel; Sound Design Tony Lepore. Directed by Andrew Block.

Jon Bernthal - Swaino
Josh Helman - Chad
John Pollono - Frank
Michael Redfield - Packie

Photo: John Flynn

- Sharon Perlmutter

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