I’ll just say it. SMALL ENGINE REPAIR by John Pollono is the funniest dark comedy I’ve ever seen on a Cincinnati stage.
I’ve never heard an audience – especially a preview audience – laugh as loudly or as often as the folks in attendance on Tuesday night. I was photographing the show and had trouble holding my camera steady from the chuckling and guffawing that I was doing throughout the 70 minute play.
Carter Bratton, who produced the piece, plays “Swaino,” a friend to Nathan Neorr’s “Frank.” Frank has summoned his two best friends – Swaino and “Packy” (Charlie Roetting) to his small engine repair shop under false pretenses. We also meet “Chad Walker,” played by the gifted Rupert Spraul. To tell you much more would be to ruin the surprises.
What’s not surprising is the excellent direction of Jared Doren. I know first hand of his genius (he directed my play, CHASE THE DRAGON, last year). In SMALL ENGINE REPAIR he guides these four acting heavyweights into pure ensemble work. No one shines more than the others and there’s a true sense of togetherness. Also, as another audience member pointed out, the crescendos and timing of the pervasive (and very dark) humor doesn’t just happen without good direction.
Bratton is at his best when he plays angry, dark characters like this one. His sense of comic timing is spot on here. Roetting, who local audiences might not be as familiar with, is gutbustingly funny. He plays smart-but-naïve with honesty. Neorr, who has movie-star charm, mines the desperation in “Frank” and is believable as the leader of this buddy-trio. And finally, Spraul, who’ll be a Senior Acting major at CCM, is present in every moment no matter what emotion the scene calls for. I dare you to take your eyes off of him.
While I give this show my highest recommendation, it comes with a caveat. This is not a show for children. There are some outrageous, shocking, and offensive moments in the script. It’s both black and blue. And it’s so so funny.
SMALL ENGINE REPAIR opens Thursday and runs through April 15th at the Clifton Performance Theatre. More information can be found here.