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Lost Girls

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Piper Perabo, Tasha Lawrence, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Photo by Joan Marcus

Eternal love is wonderful in theory, but the trust and hard work it requires mean that it won't always survive the brutal light of day. That's certainly the case for Maggie and Lou, the inextricably linked couple battling at the core of Lost Girls, John Pollono's thoughtful and engaging play for MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Try as they might—and, boy, do they try—they're unable to wrench themselves free of the allure of the other, even now that they're separated by their divorce, his remarriage to another woman, and several years of being alone. For them, nothing dulls the passion, nothing dulls the pain, and nothing can make the present whole after the careening luxury and loss of their joint past.

In Maggie and Lou, Pollono, whose previous (and looser) play Small Engine Repair appeared at the Lucille Lortel in 2013, has carved two compelling characters to occupy the heart of this not-always-compelling play. And as played with rock-ribbed conviction by Piper Perabo and Ebon Moss-Bachrach, they recognize the torture of being committed to someone who—for reasons somewhat beyond their control—they can no longer completely be with. She's sharp, abrasive, and loud-mouthed, and he's quiet, laid-back, and even reverent. Neither seems to make a whole lot of sense, as if they're each half a person. Perabo and Moss-Bachrach convey this handsomely, resigned to being trapped within their individual incompleteness, but at the same time overlaid with the expected confusion: How can this be, when the necessary other half is so often mere steps away?

The answer to that question is forthcoming, but not for a while yet; all that matters for the moment is that, when faced with a tragedy, they're capable of coming together for as long as they need to. The tragedy on this frigid December night in Manchester, New Hampshire, is that Maggie's car has been stolen from the front of her house. She needs the car to get to her job, and is in danger of defaulting on her mortgage payment if she can't work, which could spell disaster for her, her mother Linda, and her daughter Erica. So she has no choice but to call the police, who connect her with Lou, a cop, and wants to ensure that Maggie's and Erica's lives unfold cleanly. It's not long before he arrives at Maggie's home with his new wife, the slightly dopey and highly Christian Penny (Meghann Fahy), to help, and falls into despair himself at the very real possibility that Erica has driven the car into the middle of a landmark snowstorm.

Josh Green and Lizzy DeClement
Photo by Joan Marcus

Maggie and Lou must maintain their composure over the agonizing hours that follow, and fend off the sniping from the razor-tongued Linda (Tasha Lawrence), and the natural sense of competition that the oh-so-perfect Penny represents. During this time, Pollono reveals both the wedge that was driven between Maggie and Lou (it was Erica, if not in the way you may expect) and the attendant secret that suggests more may have been at work than either was aware of. Interspersed with these scenes are others set between a girl and boy (Lizzy DeClement and Josh Green) who are driving southward out of Manchester on a stormy winter night and experiencing joy and anguish that may not be resolved even when they're the age Maggie and Lou are now.

Lost Girls, then, is two different coming-of-age stories, one set in the present of early middle age and one in adolescence, but both examining how personal attitudes and self-confidence affect the growing-up and growing-wiser processes. Pollono handles them both gingerly but well, particularly at the point where the separate paths converge near the climax of this solidly realized 80-minute evening. With the help of director Jo Bonney (and set designer Richard Hoover and lighting designer Lap Chi Chu, who keep the action moving fluidly between the scenarios), Pollono has carefully calibrated the similarities and differences between the women, and showed how one reflects the best and worst of the other as they progress along eerily similar, and likely ill-fated, trajectories.

If the central four characters have been suavely, even movingly, executed, what surrounds them can sometimes feel excessive. Linda and Penny contribute little beyond comedy, the former for her acerbic cracks and the latter for her nearly vacant naïveté in the face of potentially deathly serious circumstances. Lawrence and Fahy play the women honestly and sincerely, but can't integrate them into a narrative that has far more substantial things on its mind. And for as good as the second half of Pollono's play is, when the ramifications of these tangled personal histories become unavoidable, the early scenes between the girl and boy on their makeshift road trip push their bubbly, youthful ardor a bit too far. The characters and the writing (and thus the performances of the young actors, who both gracefully highlight the inkier shades beneath their roles' well-groomed façades) have a stronger impact when they're about how the two are forced to deal with the kinds of weighty issues that can bring people together and, on sadder occasions (like those Maggie and Lou have endured), rip them apart.

Not entirely, however. Some bonds, once forged, can never be entirely broken, and one of the most serene pleasures Pollono provides here comes from seeing how these people discover that themselves, and then live up to the consequences. What Perabo and Moss-Bachrach put so nakedly, so bewitchingly, on display is rarely happy, and perhaps not even that admirable. But it's a wrenching, convincing depiction of being yoked to someone even after you think you've both given all you can. I can't say for sure what forever looks like, but it's not hard to believe that it looks a lot Maggie and Lou, working in good times and bad to forgive, forget, and move on, even though they know, deep down, they're stuck with each other—and probably wouldn't have it any other way.

Lost Girls
Through November 29
Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street between Bleecker and Bedford Streets
Tickets and current performance schedule: OvationTix

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