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Foursquare and Seven Beers Ago: 'Small Engine Repair' from Rogue Machine

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Michael Redfield, John Pollono, and Jon Bernthal in 'Small Engine Repair.' (Photo by John P. Flynn.)
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Small Engine Repair, Rogue Machine's latest dark and edgy comedic thriller about a near-fateful reunion of thee working class heroes is currently playing at Theatre Theater. Small Engine Repair is so exceptionally engrossing, entertaining, funny, and true-to-life that it is easy to forget that you are watching a play surrounded by audience on a nondescript Mid City block and not guzzling beer in a greasy repair shop. The show features crisp dialogue, a unique and realistic set, and perfect performances. This theatrical turn-on comes at the expense of a painful look in the social mirror -- a plot that regrettably hinges on a common (possibly unrecognized as such) anti-gay sentiment.

Small Engine Repair is perfectly cast with Michael Redfield, John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, and Josh Helman. Pollono is also the playwright, but it is obvious that each actor relishes in their character and has made it their own. Redfield renders the role of idiot savant and saving grace Packie with impeccable comedic timing. He delivers each line with explosive vibrancy enhanced by his own style of physical comedy. Redfield easily draws deep electricity-generating belly laughter from the entire audience. Playing central character Frank, Pollono has an air of nimble restraint that seems to course through his entire being. He is genuinely frightening as he lours through the plot, gradually losing his temporary sanity. Bernthal is the verbally understated and crass Swaino. He is a rock, reigning in the silliness and violent psychosis as it ensues, forging the way for the continuing action of the plot with impressive complexity. Helman, the only aupporting role in Small Engine Repair is a capable and convincing performer that injects elements of conjoined menace and cowardice into his character, giving it heft.

Under the impeccable direction of Andrew Block, Small Engine Repair brims with well-rounded, natural intuitiveness and discerning production choices, while Pollono's script has a unique theatrical voice saturated with refreshing authenticity. His writing craft is exemplary proof of the tremendous value of new works for the stages of Los Angeles: Small Engine Repair speaks to contemporary aesthetics through a story that manages to be at once funny, exciting, sobering, and memorable. Through several unexpected plot twists, Pollono injects sophisticated social commentary on friendship, social class, the impact of technology, the vulnerability of private life in an era of social networking, kindness, and the sad facts of the American heterosexual male existence. Pollono is a very talented writer but unfortunately, unless intended as a mirror, his script does not rise above throwing in a play's end mockery of gay sexuality when it would have been plausible to perhaps see and write the world as it ought to be rather than how it is.

Small Engine Repair is playing at Rogue Machine/Theatre Theater through June 12, 2011 located at 5041 W. Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019. Tickets are available online or via phone at 855-585-5185.