Cliftonâ€™s Latest Dark Comedy is the Small Engine that Could
Review by Lissa Gapultos of Small Engine Repair: Clifton Players
he setting of Clifton Performance Theatreâ€™s Small Engine Repair is Frankâ€™s repair shop, which encompasses nearly the entire space of the performance space. Dressed with authenticity â€“ a work bench, steel shelving that contains various mechanical tools, a refrigerator with random magnetsâ€“ the set also it also has certain tidiness about it. Frank wanders around and through the set during the pre-show, going about closing his shop for the day.
Frank has deceptively summoned his long-time friends Packie and Swaino to his shop after hours. We learn that Frank has raised a daughter on his own after his girlfriend left. Nathan Neorr portrays Frank as a humble, responsible working man with nervous energy, and a great love for his daughter Chrystal. He seems to be the neutral calming force of the three friends.
Packie is the first to arrive, and boy, does he make his presence known. Charlie Roettingâ€™s blustering entrance is a mixture of urgency, concern and the lament of missing a game. Packie is the tech nerd who lives in his grandmotherâ€™s basement; unemployed and unambitious, except with regard to technology and social media. Roetting plays him with over-the-top energy and comic simplicity. Thereâ€™s no doubt that Packie is diehard Boston sports fan, as Roetting gives a vivid and passionate recollection of a legendary baseball game from 1986.
Swaino is the suave â€œladies love meâ€ guy of the group. He and Packie have been out of sorts after a seemingly petty disagreement over a cough drop. Swaino dishes out a steady stream of bitter snark just for Packie. Actor Carter Bratton exudes arrogance, condescension, and vanity as Swaino â€” easy to resent and fascinating to watch.
The trioâ€™s bromantic and alcohol-fueled revelry is interrupted by the arrival of Chad, an Ivy League frat boy that Frank has befriended through basketball. Actor Rupert Spraul plays Chad as laid back and confident. His is a privileged life, and he clearly knows he will always have the upper hand. Chad has very little in common with the three friends, and yet he has no qualms about being out of his element.
The energy ramps up to disturbing and dark level that suddenly throws everything askew, and begs the question: what is the essence of this play? The undying bond of friendship? The follies of youth? Class inequality? Or simply, men behaving badly who finally realize they need to grow up? John Pollonoâ€™s script simply ends in a weird and unsatisfying way. Director Jared Doren (who also designed the life-life set) gives his versatile actors effective guidance which results in steady and convincing delivery from all of them â€“ anything from big and bombastic fits of masculinity to pensive moments of reflection about family and the good times of past.
If you enjoy your comedy dark (and this play is very dark) with generous amounts of crude behavior and offensive language, then this cast will take you into the proverbial man-cave in both entertaining and devastating ways. Otherwise, consider this a warning.
Clifton Playersâ€™ Small Engine Repair plays at 404 Ludlow Avenue until April 15. For tickets go (quickly) to https://cpt.cincyregister.com/smallenginerepair or call 513.813.SHOW (7469).