And there certainly is a rift. Maggie has a crappy job at which she barely earns enough to keep a roof over the heads of herself, her daughter, and her mother; Lou has a comparatively well-paying job in law enforcement and a loving new wife. More than that, Maggie had kicked Lou out of the house (and the marriage) when his drinking was out of control; now Lou is sober again. There is a lot of anger and resentment between Maggie and Louand they aren't at all helped by the fact that Maggie's mother and Lou's wife (natural enemies) are on the scene as well.
Maggie and Lou don't start off in full panic mode. They simply assume Maggie's car was stolen; the real fear doesn't appear until the end of the first scene when they try to reach Erica at school and learn that she never got there. The audience's fear is immediately resolved as the scene changes and we see the girl and a young man ("Scooter") entering a motel room. She's berating him because he had promised that he knew how to drive in the snow. She has clearly run off with the boy, but it isn't that simple. Scooter is just a friend whom she recruited to drive her to meet her real boyfriend, a much older man who lives in Florida. (I expected her to say that she met him on the Internet, but, in fact, she had previously met him in person.) There's trouble written all over this, as well as the inherent dangers involved when you put teen drivers in a lousy car in a bad snowstorm.
Erica's family has a history of teenage pregnancyseveral generations of women ahead of her have run off with men when they were too young. As a result, the play is a study about what this has done to Maggie as well as what it might end up doing to Erica.
Pollono's writing is effective, even if bits of the set-up seem a little pat (Lou happened to be near enough to take Maggie's police report? And his new wife just happened to be in the car with him?). But the dialogue feels completely true (even if some of the actors are better at the working-class New England accents than others) and the characterizations convincing.
Jennifer Pollono's Maggie is the perfect picture of someone struggling to get through her daily life, and she's got plenty of attitude. Joshua Bitton's Lou is a decent guy who knows he wasn't always so decent. Lou's new wife, played by Kirsten Kollender, realizes that she's an unwelcome interloper, and Kollender's soft-spoken delivery works well here. As for the younger set, Jonathan Lipnicki gives a genuine performance as a sweet kid who has never been able to tell the girl he loves that he really loves her. Even when Pollono has him say something goofy, it comes off as adorable. Anna Theoni DiGiovanni, who plays Erica, gives a strong, confident performance (particularly impressive as this is her theatrical debut). She creates a character who is always toying with Scooter and trying to throw him off guard; this is emphasized by John Perrin Flynn's staging, which sometimes has her casually taking a physical position vis-à-vis Scooter which shows her to be the alpha dog.
I was very impressed with Pollono's last play at Rogue Machine, Small Engine Repair. His follow-up tells a very different tale, but this, too, is a winner.
Lost Girls runs at the Rogue Machine Theatre through November 4, 2013. For tickets and information, see www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Rogue Machine Theatre – Artistic Director John Perrin Flynn; Co-Artistic Director Elina de Santos – presents the World Premiere of Lost Girls by John Pollono. Scenic design David Mauer; Costume Design Caitlin Doolittle; Lighting Design Jeff McLaughlin; Sound Design Peter Bayne; Video Design Corwin Evans; Assistant Directors Sara Fenton & Joey Long; Stage Manager Ramón Valdez; Produced by John Perrin Flynn & Rob Mersola. Directed by John Perrin Flynn