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'Stanton’s Garage' is a Gas!

The Little Lake Theatre pulls a crowd into “Stanton’s Garage,” a comedy set in a rural gas station/auto repair shop.

After stalling their engines with “Tuna Does Vegas,” due to the emergency appendectomy of Art DeConciliis, one of only two actor’s in the show, Little Lake Theatre finally revs up for a full throttle comedy with Joan Ackermann’s “Stanton’s Garage.”

It’s a hot summer’s day, deep in the boonies of rural Missouri, and two coincidental breakdowns along Route 36, pushing on the suspension of disbelief causing major mayhem—the kind Allstate would adore.

Ron (hilariously portrayed by Michael Shahen), a sad-sack wine (read whine) dealer, is off to crash his ex-wife’s newest nuptials. Lee (deftly played by Mary Liz Meyer) and her soon-to-be stepdaughter Frannie (Tory Pasternak) are on their way to the same aforementioned wedding, when her Volvo breaks down. Both parties, unbeknownst to either of them, are scheduled to attend the same shindig, but instead get waylaid in the titular garage.

The garage is rife with quirky characters: Denny (Nathan Bell) the genius mechanic subject to fainting spells, gruff-on-the-outside/teddy-bear-on-the-inside Silvio (Bob Anderson), the winsome Audrey (Martha Bell), estranged wife to Silvio, freshly-scrubbed horny gofer Harlon (Troy Bruchwalski), and, finally, tough, tells-it-like-it-is Mary (Rebecca Herron).

It’s Mary who proclaims Harlon’s lustful nature, “Young Harlon here’d poke the crack of dawn if he could catch it.”

Put aside the extremely coincidental plot contrivances and stock characters, and you have a comedy chock full of zippy dialogue, mostly from the mouths of Shahen and Herron. Shahen’s Ron is a down-on-his-luck lunatic reeling from his broken romantic relationships. When he returns in act two, the laughs never stop while he’s on the stage.

Herron’s Mary has a one-liner for every denizen in her wacky little town. Some of the lines are familiar, “If I had a dog as ugly as her, I’d shave his butt and teach him to walk backwards,” but still hilarious, due to Herron’s delivery.

A good chunk of the play rests on Meyer’s Lee, a tightly-wound surgeon who slowly goes mad awaiting the repairs on her Volvo (Meyer's lemon?), a very foreign car to the grease monkeys swinging screwdrivers in Stanton’s garage. She gets several freak-out moments, especially when her young charge Frannie goes off to a softball game with Harlon and goes missing late into night.

Director Art DeConciliis, recovering marvelously from his 10-day stint in the hospital, shows no signs of wear and tear. He managed to garner great performances from his cast and crew, despite the fact that he had to give up smoking cigarettes.  

Bell’s Denny doled out a figurative and literal misstep in the production. His fainting spells lacked a certain air of believability. He seemed too cognizant that he was about to slap ass on hard surface of the stage. It didn’t help that Ackermann gave the superfluous character short-shrift and a pat cure (the final straw on the coincidental camel's back).

The set is an eclectic mess (in a good way), perfect for this rural pit stop, thanks to Canonsburg Vending, Stush’s Automotive and the set designers. Though, because it was staged "in the 'round" some angles of the action were concealed by the archaic and rusty set pieces. Thanks to the comic timing of the talented cast, it was only a small flaw in a fun and funny production.

Interesting side note—The Little Lake Theater isn't a dinner theater per se, but it does offer a variety of snacks and desserts during intermission. Most of the baked goods were supplied by (a Patch favorite).

Up next for the Little Lake Theater Company is Alan Ayckbourn’s “Comic Potential,” opening July 7.

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