Keegan Allen, James Badge Dale, James Ransone, and John Pollono in Pollono's “Small Engine Repair,” at the Lucille Lortel through December 21. | JOAN MARCUS
I’m guessing that “Small Engine Repair,” the stunning nail-biter depicting the doomed reunion of three former best buds, now playing Off Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, won’t be winning a GLAAD award anytime soon. In fact, I expect some theatergoers will be outright offended by the blatant homophobia running rampant onstage.
They will need to get over it.
Because like it or not, sometimes when miserable, none-too-bright, supposedly straight guys get together and chug Budweisers and Johnny Walker Blue like there’s no tomorrow, they are prone to calling each other “faggy” and “pussy” and “cuntface.” They can’t help but hurl emasculating insults that involve dicks and ass-fucking to make the barbs sting. Political correctness is an alien concept.
When guys gulp whiskey and brag about chicks and Facebook, unexpected sparks fly
Keep in mind that John Pollono, the playwright who also stars as Frank, the owner of the ramshackle shop of the play’s title, is all too familiar with this particular stripe of folk. He grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the drama takes place, and has admitted he was initially afraid of acting on his dream of becoming a writer or actor. If he did, chances are his friends would call him a — well, you know.
Critics of the work might do well to remember that it’s a satire of sorts with artificially amped up dramatic elements. It’s a ticking time bomb of a play designed to make you squirm in your seat. That’s part of the thrill.
And besides, there is a good deal of shameless misogyny and bashing of other groups as well, so consider the work an equal opportunity offender.
We sense something amiss from the get-go. The visibly agitated Frank has invited his two loser childhood friends, the tightly wound Packie (James Ransone) and the arrogant Swaino (James Badge Dale), under false pretenses to hang out at his shop after hours and get hammered. The guys, well into their 30s, have grown distant in recent years. Frank, a single dad trying to raise the daughter he inadvertently fathered in high school, wants to relive those boyhood glory days, pre-Internet, when they would share Playboy magazines and watch Red Sox games together. (A cherished memory: their dads kicking the shit out of them after the Sox lost the World Series to the Mets in 1986.)
But he’s holding something back. Not long after a preppie, drug-dealing college jock named Chad (Keegan Allen) joins the party and tells a story of sharing a naked photo that some girl texted him, Frank reveals his true motive.
Under the taut direction of Jo Bonney, the supremely talented ensemble is firing on all cylinders. The performances are so wickedly entertaining we hardly notice the occasional potholes of logic and patches of improbable vocabulary in the script.
As you might imagine, the cruel, expletive-filled “Small Engine Repair” echoes works from Neil LaBute and David Mamet. The set of the greasy repair shop (by Richard Hoover), cluttered with engine parts and drenched in testosterone, recalls the junk shop in Mamet’s classic “American Buffalo.”
“Be careful of this one,” Frank says when Chad arrives, referring to Swaino. “He’ll stick his dick into anything with a hole and a heartbeat.”
Yet this brisk, 70-minute dark comedy has more than offensiveness on its mind. It’s got plenty to say about the power of shared histories, crumbling of friendships, inequity of socio-economic classes, and pitfalls of social networking. There’s even a subplot that recalls the devastating Tyler Clementi suicide.
At some point, the homophobic veers into the homoerotic. All that blathering about massive cocks and fingers in asses makes you wonder if the guys, none of them married, doth protest too much. We suspect that one of them is a closet case in deep denial.
Convinced they live in a land with very little action and even less hope of escape, they sarcastically — and derisively — refer to their provincial city as “Manch-Vegas.” At the play’s disturbing climax, we share their shock in discovering that they got it so terribly wrong.
SMALL ENGINE REPAIR | MCC Theater Company | Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., btwn. Hudson & Bleecker Sts. | Through Dec. 21; Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $30-$89 at mcctheater.org or 212-352-3101