Three Old Pals Get Together for Weed, Laughs and Random Felonies in 'Small Engine Repair' at None Too Fragile

click to enlarge James Rankin, Memo Diaz-Capt, Brian Kenneth Armour & Nicholas Chokan - Courtesy None Too Fragile
Courtesy None Too Fragile
James Rankin, Memo Diaz-Capt, Brian Kenneth Armour & Nicholas Chokan

If you believe in Chekhov's Gun, the rule stating that a playwright shouldn't make implied promises early in a play if they're not resolved by the end, then you will be pleased with one aspect of Small Engine Repair, now at None Too Fragile Theatre. A few minutes in, one male character comments on the unusually ample "package" another man on stage possesses. And sure enough, that promise is visually certified, with the help of a prop, during the conclusion of the play.

In between lies a 75-minute one act by John Pollono that bristles with artfully constructed male posturing and testosterone-soaked mini-rages, as three old pals in their mid-30's from Manchester, Massachusetts get together for old times' sake at the engine repair shop of Frank. His long-lost buddies include Packie—a slim, nervous Irish dude with mad social media skills, and Swaino, a self-described stud with younger women and a "likes-to-fight" guy who reacts to every taunt and jibe with threats or fists.

Packie and Swaino hate each other for a past slight, and they both hate that they've been brought together on this night under false pretenses. But soon they're pals again as the booze and joints flow. Frank himself seems like the adult in the room. He has a teenage daughter a functioning business. So, he's always trying to calm the others down until he announces that he's invited a college kid named Chad (a preppy and properly irritating Memo Diaz Capt) to share their reunion, on the idea that Chad will sell them some Ecstasy to keep the party rolling.

Although it begins with bracing energy, Pollono's script goes a bit soft in the middle as he struggles to arrange conversational structures for the guys. This wobbly skeleton is braced awkwardly by weak bladders as one man after another disappears to piss (a scriptwriting device that Noel Coward apparently never considered), allowing the remaining characters to have their own chat time.

The last third of the play ratchets up the intensity again as Frank's hidden agenda for inviting Chad is revealed. This leads to an ending that is alternately amusing, oddly homophobic and unbelievable—so you can pick the reaction that best suits your mood.

James Rankin as Packie and Nicholas Chokan as Swaino make the most of their broad characters, nailing their punch lines, keeping the pacing fierce, and even making their instant reconciliation at the shop seem marginally credible. When Rankin's Packie complains about his poor luck with women, Chokan's Swaino offers this sage advice: "You should have jerked off on her pillow before you left" to show he thought she was cute. That pretty much summarizes how women are treated in this all-male play, as off-stage props for male jerkoff fantasies.

In the pivotal role of Frank, the talented actor Brian Kenneth Armour has a great look with his slicked back hair and sleeveless work shirt, and his anger towards Chad rings true. But this role presents a tough balancing act, and Armour is only partially successful during his early simmering, with nefarious plans bubbling in his head. In those moments Armour's affect defaults to a power-down mode, and that tends to make Frank disappear instead of dominate the room. The actor seems to be waiting for something big to happen, when he should be bringing that larger dimension with him.

Sean Derry's set design has all the lush detail one could want, since it seems a real engine repair person could walk up there and fix your lawn mower or motorcycle in a trice. Out front, the NTF team provides the audience with air purifying technology and a sparkling clean environment to make nervous guests relax.

Small Engine Repair is the kind of juicy fare that NTF loves, and it's great to have a new season all set up and ready for action at one of the primo theaters in this (or any other) town.

Small Engine Repair
Through September 18 at None Too Fragile Theatre, 732 W. Exchange St., Akron, 330-962-5547,