Los Angeles Theater Review: LOST GIRLS (Rogue Machine Theatre)

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by Samuel Garza Bernstein on September 17, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

WOMEN WITH HEARTS OF IRON

Before going to see Rogue Machine Theatre’s latest production, Lost Girls, I turned to my companion and asked, “Why is everything that Rogue does so good?” Then a horrible sinking feeling hit. I bet I just jinxed it. It’s a very Jewish idea—that in praising something out loud, you incite the potential wrath of evil spirits. Kina hora poo poo poo!

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Lost Girls” at Rogue Machine Theatre.Yet, I doubt evil spirits have much to do with my tepid response to the premiere of John Pollono’s new play. He is a much-awarded playwright of many gifts, (his hit play Small Engine Repair, which had its world premiere at Rogue, opens at Off-Broadway’s MCC Theatre this fall), but this is not a work of particular invention, nor does he give it a fresh or specific perspective.

We’re in Derry, New Hampshire, in what appears to be a very wrong-side-of-the-tracks area. A Nor’easter is coming. A car is stolen. A teenaged girl goes missing. Her estranged parents, step-mother, and grandmother try to cope. There is one rather neat narrative surprise late in the game, but other than that, most of the play is taken up with reliving the past—alcoholism, family violence, teen pregnancy, and the loss of all the hopeful perquisites of youth.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Lost Girls” at Rogue Machine Theatre.The trouble is that the emotional and social issues Pollono explores are the well-trodden (and well-executed) fodder of any number of Law & Order: S.U.V. episodes. When television gets as good as the S.U.V. franchise, theater has to up its game if it wants to be relevant.

Director John Perrin Flynn doesn’t bring a lot of flair to the proceedings. The staging is just serviceable—verging on flat. He also would have done well to rein in the thick New England accents that threaten to swallow up the cast. For the small space, scenic designer David Mauer has done a nice job of creating the play’s two alternating sets.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Lost Girls” at Rogue Machine Theatre.The cast is a talented group. Many are veterans of other Rogue Machine productions, and there is a uniform sense of commitment and truthfulness. Jennifer Pollono, as the missing girl’s mother, Maggie, has to shoulder too much exposition, and the role is kind of a drag. We get it: she’s long-suffering, tough on the outside, but ready to crumble. What else is new?

The truly interesting character (and performance) is the step-mother, Penny, played by Kirsten Kollender. Penny is forthright about how awkward her presence is in this family crisis, and she readily acknowledges that life isn’t fair. She got her husband Lou after Maggie kicked him out—when he stopped drinking. She has the best of him. Maggie got the worst. See? Life isn’t fair.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Lost Girls” at Rogue Machine Theatre.Kollender has a droll wit and ramrod straight posture that helps set the character apart. To my ear, she has the best handle on the accent, but she also has the most fun with it, giving her lines an understated punch by doing as little as possible. She is knock-out good.

As Lou, the man caught between Maggie and Penny, Joshua Bitton gives a sturdy, heartfelt performance. He and Jennifer Pollono also played opposite one another in last year’s Dirty Filthy Love Story; and their oddball chemistry was effective. Here, there is less for them to explore. They successfully create the vibe of a real divorced couple; but the relationship offers few surprises—for them or for us.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of “Lost Girls” at Rogue Machine Theatre.My heart broke a little at Lost Girls.

Like everyone, I want to be transported by going to the theater. I was happy to be at Rogue Machine, all packed, ready for the trip—ready to be transported—but there was no transcendence this time out. Maybe next time.

photos by John Flynn

Lost Girls
Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd
scheduled to end on November 4, 2013
EXTENDED through January 27, 2014
for tickets, call 855-585-5185 or at http://www.roguemachinetheatre.com

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