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Finding a Star Playwright in John Pollano's "Lost Girls"

Jennifer Pollono and Joshua Bitton in "Lost Girls"
Jennifer Pollono and Joshua Bitton in "Lost Girls"
John Flynn

"Lost Girls" at Theatre/Theater

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If ever there were a girl seemingly destined to repeat her mother’s choices and hop a fast train to Nowheresville, that girl would be Erica.

The teen-age daughter of divorced parents, Erica lives with her still single mother Maggie, and her grandmother Linda in Derry New Hampshire. Maggie’s boyfriends come and go, and Maggie barely holds down a job. Utilities are frequently unpaid and life is generally difficult. Maggie’s ex Lou, a policeman, has cleaned up his act, remarried and now has a little bit of money. And on a frigid winter night in the middle of a punishing snowstorm, Maggie’s car is stolen and Erica doesn’t show up at school.

John Pollono’s “Lost Girls” is as much an urgent “what happened?” drama as a “what happens next?” reckoning. As the hunt for the missing teen is taken up by the police, an off duty Lou and his wife Penny end up landlocked at Maggie’s house. Bitterness, hurt and unhealed past wounds are put on full ugly display and delivered with working class New Hampshire accents. Between the vanished Erica her very much adrift mother Maggie, we have our two titular “Lost Girls.” Three if you count Linda, (although she probably wouldn’t).

Rogue Machine Theatre has become the L.A. artistic home both of John Pollano and his wife Jennifer (a company founding member who also plays Maggie) and RMT does the world premiere of “Lost Girls” proud. With John Perrin Flynn directing a top notch six person cast, the production continues what seems to be a pretty significant critical winning streak for the scrappy award-winning Rogues.

“Lost Girls” is a feisty play about people who say funny things but who are by no means comic. Pollono creates salt of the earth, hard working characters who are angry that things are so hard. With her car missing and no way to get to work – much less look for Erica - Maggie is forced to call Lou, the man she sort of still loves, but also blames. As much of a mess of things as Maggie has made (Linda was clearly no role model) Lou’s record is nowhere near pristine. Throw Lou’s peace-seeking wife Penny into the mix, and things can get very angry very quickly. (And, yes, we do learn what happened to Erica.)

Playwright Pollano structures his tale around some plot conveniences and a rather deft dramatic cheat. Elevated out of sketchiness though she is by Kirsten Kollender, Penny hangs around long enough to ratchet up hostility and let Maggie supply some salacious information about Lou. Then the playwright sends Penny out into the snow on a booze run (with Linda no less), leaving the former husband and wife alone to stew in their past and present miseries.

And stew they most expertly do. Flynn and his actors excel at building and maintaining tension. Joshua Britton and Jennifer Pollano tear into each other and then help put each other back together. Although they’re playing being responsible adults, Britton and Pollano tap into their characters’ less mature qualities. Excellent supporting work is turned in by Ann Bronston (who alternates the role of Linda with Peggy Dunne), Anna Theoni DiGiovanni and Jonathan Lipnicki.

With the Rogue-birthed “Small Engine Repair” enjoying a successful off Broadway production, John Pollono’s star is clearly on the rise. Hopefully he’ll continue to use RMT and the space at Theatre/Theater as a birthing ground.

“Lost Girls” continues at 5 p.m. Sat., 7 p.m. Sun., 8 p.m. Mon.; through Jan. 27 at 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A. $30. (855) 585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.