Lost Girls: Theater Review

Kirsten Kollender Joshua Bitton Peggy Dunne Lost Girls - H 2013
John Flynn
Absorbing family drama of a teenager gone missing in a New Hampshire blizzard explores generations of poor women making poor choices through tangy regional dialogue and crackling scenes, though narrative contrivances may require an indulgent audience. 

Three generations of women face emotional upheaval and a New Hampshire Nor'easter on Rogue Machine's mid-Wilshire stage.

On the tinier of the two small stages at Rogue Machine, a fierce Nor’easter is cascading snow outside, the roads are turning to hazardous ice, and we are tucked into the sparse living room of a tatty house in Derry, N.H., where three generations of women live alone, mother and daughter both supported by Maggie (Jennifer Pollono), not quite surviving paycheck to paycheck at Filene’s Basement, an auto insurance deductible away from foreclosure. In this family, generational progress is measured by how late teen pregnancy is delayed: great-grandmother gave birth at 15, acerbic layabout grandma Linda (Peggy Dunne at the performance viewed) was 16, and Maggie at 18 (and actually married!). Daughter Erica (Anna Theoni DiGiovanni), now 17, is consciously regarded as at the critical age, and she’s disappeared into the night tempest, prompting the appearance of ex-husband Lou (Joshua Bitton), a state trooper, with his new second wife, Penny (Kirsten Kollender), in tow.

The claustrophobic room, fraught with tension, anxiety and recriminations, as well as a downpour of storyline gambits, alternates with a tawdry Connecticut motel room where two fugitive classmates (DiGiovanni and Jonathan Lipnicki, best known as the kid from Jerry Maguire, now all grown up) have been forced by the weather to hole up, as he drives her to Florida to hook up with her decades-older lover. The awful deterministic thud of history repeating weighs heavily throughout. There is an appropriate – if blessedly lightly invoked – strain of Eugene O’Neill in these fateful family dynamics.

Playwright John Pollono, whose immediately previous show in this same space, the powerful Small Engine Repair, swept all local theater awards as best production of 2011 and will open shortly Off Broadway, revisits the same New England turf examining a distaff flipside to the testosterone-driven predicaments concocted in the earlier work. Pollono richly understands this milieu, and the colorful speech rings musically in the greatly appreciated authentic local accents. Even when developments might strain credulity, or perhaps have suspended disbelief more gracefully, he summons sympathetic involvement with these interesting people and gives them a dimension of expression that belies their lack of education and dim prospects.

In a part written for her by her husband, Pollono seizes every opportunity, occasionally reaching for the titanic stature of an Anna Magnani and coming damn close, brandishing her dominant role within that room notwithstanding her near-complete lack of power outside of it. Everyone else stays reliably spot-on, keenly flawed individuals with a continually surprising complexity of character. Perhaps most impressively, the almost transparent Lipnicki limns the genuinely sweet innocent naif Scooter by skillfully navigating past the treacherous shoals of a devilishly difficult personality to make convincing. It’s unsurprising that the direction of John Perrin Flynn is so sympathetic and comfortable. His collaborations with Pollono date back to the genesis of the enterprise in 2006 with Lost and Found, and one senses how integral their chemistry is to the very DNA of this estimable company. 

Venue: Rogue Machine Theatre, mid-Wilshire (runs through Nov. 4)
Cast: Jennifer Pollono, Joshua Bitton, Ann Bronston, Peggy Dunne, Anna Theoni DiGiovanni, Jonathan Lipnicki, Kirsten Kollender
Director: John Perrin Flynn
Playwright: John Pollono
Set designer: David Mauer
Lighting designer: Jeff McLaughlin
Sound designer: Peter Bayne
Costume designer: Caitlin Doolittle
Video designer: Corwin Evans
Producers: Flynn & Rob Mersola