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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Lost Girls

"I felt like our little girl was a piece of china that slipped through my fingers and shattered on the concrete floor. — Lou
Jonathan Lipnicki and Anna Theoni DiGiovanni (Photo credit: John Flynn)
Patterns can be hard to break. Just ask the Lefebvre women. When Maggie (Jennifer Pollono) was eighteen, she gave birth to Erica (Anna Theoni DiGiovanni). Maggie's mother Linda (Peggy Dunne, at the performance viewed) was seventeen when she had Maggie. Linda's mother gave birth at sixteen. Now it looks like teenaged Erica's heading down the same path.

Playwrights too can get caught in a cycle of repetition. The talented John Pollono keeps sending increasingly bad news Maggie's way. At the top of the play she goes out into a Nor-Easter only to discover her car is gone. Her boss threatens to fire her if she doesn't get to work and she's one just lost paycheck from insolvency.

Then her ex-husband, and recovering alcoholic, Lou (Joshua Bitton) shows up with his perky new wife Penny (Kirsten Kollender), both of whom make Maggie even more fractious. Soon they discover Erica is missing. Not long after that, the police let Maggie know the car's been in a deadly pile-up. Just as she's about to find out Erica's fate, the electricity, including her land-line phone, goes out.

Pollono admirably cares about the hardscrabble lives of the American working class. And thankfully his characters never lose their bracing sense of humor. But outside of a major shift in DiGiovanni's character, most don't undergo much development.

This is especially true of Pollono's Maggie. Her first line is "Goddamn motherfucking sonofagoddamn cunt" and then she proceeds to get really ornery. Both Pollonos keep us on Maggie's side, but she's got her dukes up so high we don't get a glimpse of her soul.

It would help if Maggie's fear and vulnerability rose closer to the surface, even for just a flash, when the more horrific possibilities get thrown her way. Instead, it's Bitton's Lou who offers the most emotion as he hears about the car wreck. Admittedly, his character is more open but Bitton believably lets the news carry him wrenchingly on a wave of emotion that he seems to surrender to rather than controls. It's the type of live moment that can make one a happy and willing theater addict.

Pollono's got another unhelpful habit. Maggie has a penchant for nursing grudges by telling traumatic stories of her past. Most of the tales concern how her failed marriage to Lou kept her from making much progress in her life. But the back stories also stall whatever momentum the play's been developing.

The most headway is made in scenes featuring DiGiovanni and Jonathan Lipnicki as the classmate who's driving with her. They're relatively new to each other and refreshingly free to make their own history as opposed to being weighed down by it.

DiGiovanni's got an edge but, unlike the other Lefebvre women, it isn't fully formed. Watching the adorable Lipnicki start to disarm her also works like a charm on the rest of us. We watch with the hope that the curse of the smart Lefebvre women and their foolish choices will finally be broken.

Just as it seems that it will, the play itself leaps free from its patterns with a structural twist that turns our assumptions about the plot upside down. In one fell swoop, Pollono theatricalizes how lifechanging events, like teenage pregnancy, get passed down generation to generation. You could fall for a play like that.

John Perrin Flynn's production contributes some galvanizing breaths of fresh air of its own. The performances are all invigorating and the design elements, buoyant. David Mauer's set transforms the tiny playing space into a world of wonders via rotating panels spun by the cast and a precise use of projections.

But Flynn's staging often lacks the buoyancy of those set changes. The big moments of confrontation or revelation announce themselves through Flynn's habit of lining up the actors then on a single plane. The actors, so good in the rest of the play, tend to tense up self-consciously when placed in that configuration.

Flynn's company Rogue Machine itself has its share of habits. Every show I've seen in their smaller space has been about the financially strapped, who of course deserve the attention of artists and audiences. But it does contribute to a lack of surprise that each production unfairly has to combat.

Fortunately, the company has other formidable tendencies, such as high quality elements in every aspect of its shows. As for its latest, these lost girls and the production around them ultimately find their footing and our admiration. Looking forward to the next Rogue Machine production is a habit I hope to keep for seasons to come.

The Lost Girls
by John Pollono
Directed by John Perrin Flynn
Cast: Joshua Bitton as Lou, Ann Bronston and Peggy Dunne sharing the role of Linda, Kirsten Kollender as Penny, Jonathan Lipnicki as Scooter, Jennifer Pollono as Maggie and Anna Theoni DiGiovanni as Erica
Stage Design: David Mauer
Lighting Design: Jeff McLaughlin
Composer and Sound Design: Peter Bayne
Costume Design: Caitlin Doolittle
Video Design: Corwin Evans
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
Runs through November 4 at Rogue Machine 5041 Pico Blvd., LA, CA 90019 855-585-5185 www.roguemachinetheatre
Reviewed by Jon Magaril
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