‘Labor of love’: ‘Small Engine Repair’ hits the big screen after play’s off-Broadway success

Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro and John Pollono in a scene from “Small Engine Repair.” (Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

It’s been a journey for John Pollono to get “Small Engine Repair” to the big screen.

It started off as a play in Los Angeles and premiered off-Broadway in 2013.

After 10 years, the film is in theaters for the world to see. It is playing in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

“Well, I mean, the biggest difference is when you’re in it, you can’t watch it,” Pollono says of the film. “So that was a that was really cool to be able to see it. I spent a year living in Portales, where I wrote a lot. I’ll have to tell you about that.”

“Small Engine Repair” follows three high school buddies — Frank, Swaino and Packie — played by Pollono, Jon Bernthal and Shea Whigham, respectively.

The threee share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars and Frank’s teenage daughter, Crysal, played by Ciara Bravo.

But when Frank invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control.

Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham and John Pollono in a scene from “Small Engine Repair.” (Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The film is based on Pollono’s award-winning play, a powerful exploration of brotherhood, class struggle and modern masculinity.

Bernthal has been there alongside Pollono since the beginning.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Bernthal says. “When this came into my life 10 years ago, I went to a reading of this play. Then I participated in it. As soon as it was over, I went to John and said I really wanted to be in it. John is an extraordinary writer. He’s one of the best in the business.”

At the heart of the story is a friendship among the three men.

Whigham says Packie was one of the toughest characters he’s taken on.

“It scared me the most, because he is the farthest from me,” Whigham says. “I didn’t know John Pollano or Jon Bernthal at all before this. But we became tight. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to come into this ecosystem and see what I could bring this friendship to life on camera.”

Pollano wanted to write characters who were real and relatable.

“Jon said earlier that you can see yourself in each character,” he says. “I started with the characters in a very grounded way. There are certainly archetypes, like the father seeking justice. But with theater, you have to push and go to new places. It’s harder to do in movies, because audiences are more expecting to have passive experiences. This movie requires you to actively listen and engage, and eventually makes you feel things.”

 

In Theaters
“Small Engine Repair,” starring John Pollano, Jon Bernthal and Shea Whigham, is in theaters in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

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