Small Engine Repair could be the sleeper of the season, even though it comes to NYC having cleaned up on the awards circuit in Los Angeles. It’s a very difficult play to describe past a few basic things obvious from the outset, because its chief asset is surprise; and the development that—I suppose I can say this much—just when it seems you’re watching a play that is little more than a “gathering” comedy-drama, and a fairly entertaining one, in which old friends (in this case three, plus eventually one young outsider) get together for an evening in which drink flows and truths are revealed, you suddenly realize that quietly, all around you, without it being flagged; yet carefully, not jarringly, because all the pieces were either in plain sight or cleanly introduced; a genuine plot has formed, which includes suspense, intrigue, reversal, a roaring visceral connection and a highly cathartic and satisfying denouement. All in a neat 75 minutes.
I shall reveal only this. The three old friends are thirty-something working class guys in Manchester, New Hampshire. The locale is the behind-the-counter workshop of Small Machine Repair, owned by Frank (John Pollono, who is also the playwright), a single father and the binding soul of the tro. His pals are Packie (James Ransome), endearing, goofy and a little sad, out of work for two years, date-less for that long and living with his grandmother; and Swaino (James Badge Dale), an unrepentant womanizer whose easiest amusement is winding Packie up. The fourth fellow is not quite 20, a young man of spoiled privilege named Chad (Keegan Allen). How he fits into the context…well, that’s what you’ll have to see.
And you really do have to see it. Excellently acted, deftly plotted, wittily dialogued (if you can hear the wit through the typical contemporary over-seasoning of “fuck” and its variant forms and placements) and tightly directed (Jo Bonney), its only real flaw is that it may eventually become too popularly produced in regional, stock and amateur—let’s not even discuss a film adaptation that would seem to be inevitable—to keep its clever surprises a secret.
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