By Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
When Frank (Patrick Jordan) gathers his childhood friends Packie (Gabe King) and Swaino (Brendan Griffin) for a drink in his shop, he’s got more on his mind than emptying the bottle of Johnny Walker Blue in John Pollono’s dark comedy, “Small Engine Repair.”
Frank lures Packie and Swaino to his independent small engine repair shop in Manchester, New Hampshire under false pretenses. Frank is clearly the alpha dog in his pack. It seems he’s brought the two friends together to repair an ancient rift between his two besties; a ridiculous kerfuffle over a pack of cough drops.
Packie is unemployed sad-sack who lives in his grandmother’s basement. Swaino works in a warehouse, but parties like a playboy. He contends that the secret to his youthful appearance is sleeping with younger women. He insists, “Don’t date ‘em over 26.” He struts and preens all over the garage.
Frank, however, has issues of his own. He’s a divorced dad with a high school age daughter named Crystal. He also has some deep-seated anger management issues.
The old friends hilariously bicker, joke and cajole one another like old friends often do, but then the story takes an ominous turn when Chad (Casey Cott) walks in. Chad believes he’s there to sell the older guys Ecstasy. Chad recants a story about his shenanigans at his fraternity and suddenly the plot twists and turns in a frightening way.
A wry wink at modern technology throws an unexpected wrench (pun intended) into the inner workings into “Small Engine.”
Director Richard Keitel does excellent work with very talented actors. He skillfully moves the actors around the grimy garage.
Griffin, straight from his run as a disturbed Kenneth in City Theatre’s “A Night Alive,” is the voice of reason in this psychodrama (emphasis on psycho). He tosses around utterly vulgar dialogue as if each dirty word was a Wildean bon mot. There’s a great moment when Griffin transforms from cock of the walk to chicken and the transition is seamless and hilarious.
Meanwhile, King is endowed with all the attributes that make him perfect to play Packie (a you-had-to-be-there pun).
Cott’s Chad is a smaller but equally important role. He gives off the perfect preppie vibe, and it’s easy to feel the terror in his heart when his life is threatened later in the play.
Jordan’s rage-fueled Frank is terrific. The actor wore many additional hats. He is also the creative director, set and costume designer. He exceeds in each endeavor. The cast is appropriately attired, especially Jordan in grease monkey overalls and Cott in Izod and chinos. The set is reminiscent of every small business repair shop.
Even though cyberbullying and misogyny are integral aspects of the plot, Pollono wrote a show for an all white, all male cast. It would be nice to have some more diversity, especially in Braddock. But it’s a rare show that can make you laugh hysterically, terrify you, and bring you back to laughter two minutes later. “Small Engine Repair” is firing on all pistons.
“Small Engine Repair” runs through December 6 at the barebones black box theater at 1215 Braddock Avenue, Braddock, PA 15104. For more information, click here.