About the author:
After finishing college and film school in 2000, John Pollono moved to Los Angeles to establish a career as a screenwriter. And yet, as soon as the New Hampshire-born writer and actor began taking classes at Howard Fine Studio, he became enthralled by the character-, dialogue- and performance-driven stories coming out of theater. He started the Jabberwocky Theatre Company in 2004, which morphed into Rogue Machine Theatre in 2008, and has earned critical acclaim and several L.A. theater awards for his plays, including Lost and Found and Lost Girls. BElow, Pollono reveals what inspired him to write and star in Small Engine Repair, a pitch-black comic drama about three pals who gather in a grimy workshop for some serious drinking, reminiscing and musing about the mysteries of social networking. See MCC Theater's explosive production, which co-stars James Badge Dale, James Ransone and Keegan Allen, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
The first spark for Small Engine Repair actually happened a few blocks from the Lucille Lortel. And (like the play) it involved booze and beer and a bit of fighting.
In the summer of 2010, I wrote and acted in a play called Lost and Found in the New York International Fringe Festival. Andrew Block (who would later direct Small Engine Repair in its L.A. incarnation) and I put a great group of actors together, and the show ended up doing well enough that we ran at the Lortel for a bit as part of their Fringe Encore series. One night, a bunch of the guys I grew up with, having seen enough Facebook posts about “all this New York City bullshit,” came down to see the play. Aftewards, all of us—the NYC cast and these New Hampshire/Boston dudes—grabbed some drinks at Bayard’s Ale House.
I was pretty weirded out to have my two worlds collide for the first time—the actors, who I had grown to really love and collaborate with as an artist, and my childhood friends, who shaped me more than they know but did not know my artistic side. This was the first play they’d ever seen and the first time they’d seen me act on stage. They were thrilled that a lot of the characters on stage were cut from the neighborhoods we grew up in. One was even named after a cop who used to harass us endlessly (and in most cases rightfully) in the small town we grew up in. Since I live in L.A., they never had a chance to see me do my thing. So this was a big deal for all of us. My “coming out” party.
And for a short time, it was really cool watching the actors and the friends get a little buzzed and hang out…but there comes a point when a New York actor slows down the drinking and goes home, and a New England buddy (“Hey back off, I’m on a mini fucking vacation”) doesn’t.
At various points throughout the next three hours I found myself flashing back to my younger days, when I was the one who usually felt compelled to put down the drink and take care of everyone else. There was a fight with a bouncer, someone refusing to remove his leg that he laid across a strange woman’s lap, vomiting in the women’s bathroom, various nude cell phone pictures on display, shots of Jameson, more beer, dudes wandering off into the middle of the street, dudes dropping their wallet in the toilet, a near-fight in the entryway as one of them was checking IDs from every pretty girl who came in…and me in the middle of all of this, trying to keep everyone out of trouble, just like I used to.
The next morning, hung over, I started wondering what my life would have been like had I never moved out of my hometown—bittersweet thoughts of people you love yet drive you crazy. The place you always wanted to leave yet draw more material and truth from than anything else. That’s always a great place to start as a writer. What if? And that was the spark. The drive behind writing Small Engine Repair. A story about many things, but the glue is three guys with a shared history who love each other deeply but also can’t stand each other. Funny, sad, sweet, tragic.
So I took pieces of people I knew and I made these characters who, as a writer, I love but also drive me crazy. And the role I knew I’d play—Frank—is the guy who usually puts his drink down and takes care of everyone. Except in Small Engine Repair, he’s not doing that. And that’s where the fun begins…