Review by Kathleen Campion
From the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram—to Amy Fine Collins’s disturbing Vanity Fair piece focused on the girl-next-door trafficking of American girls—lost girls populate our news headlines Closer to the arts page, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s graphic novel Lost Girls examines the lost girls of literature: Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy.
The lost girls in John Pollono’s drama at the Lortel speak to generations of loss. We quickly understand the nearly genetic force that leads the event of one generation’s teen pregnancy to replicate in the next.
The mother of the piece, Linda, played with a boisterous brio by Tasha Lawrence, offers that since her mother had her at fifteen, and then Linda had her baby at sixteen, and that baby had her daughter at seventeen they are a family “making progress.”
Yes, the way these women live—paycheck to paycheck and enraged at their evident failure to prosper—is grim. The good news here is that Pollono’s storytelling hangs on well-developed characters engaged in a dark comedy. So while you despair of their progress you are laughing hard with them as they bang through adversity, revisiting past mistakes, and dodging historic raw spots.
The story opens with Maggie slamming out of the house heading for her low level retail job—only to discover both her Honda, and her teenaged daughter Erica, have gone missing. Reluctantly she calls Lou, her ex, Erica’s father, and a Massachusetts State cop. They had been high school sweethearts but his alcoholism led to their divorce. He is now sober and remarried to Penny, a bright, shiny Christian. Maggie and Lou have much between them still that is unresolved; there’s plenty of anger and blame—and an ancient passion for one another.
The three adult women—Maggie, the ex-wife, her mother Linda, and Penny, Lou’s new wife— show us firestorms of loyalties, affinities, dichotomies. Maggie (Piper Perabo) is scathingly funny until she shows you her despair. She artfully carries all the tension of the play; Penny (Meghann Fahy) offers a kind of polished grit in her relatively thankless role. (She is mostly there for the others to play against.)
For example, as Linda (Tasha Lawrence) listens to Penny acknowledge she’d been a virgin when she married Lou, Linda is nearly starstruck as she tells us: “It’s like watching a fucking unicorn!” Lawrence only gets better in the role as we rely on her to bust balls.
Perhaps because the playwright is also an actor he gives each of the characters some moments. Juxtaposing Maggie with Penny, Pollono pulls us to the edge of the girl-fight playground encounter. Maggie, the world weary aggressor is scathing in her distain; Penny, the religious do-gooder, is relentless in her conviction she can help. Fifteen rounds, no decision.
It takes longer to “get” Lou (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), the ex-husband. He enters in crisis: his daughter is missing, her mother distraught, his former mother-in-law still judging him a loser, and his new wife trying too hard. Moss-Bachrach may be the tallest man I’ve ever seen on a stage and his physical dominance plays nicely with his vulnerability. He swaggers in, the know-it-all cop, but gradually shows his own regret, his own sense of failure, and his current struggle to remake himself.
Richard Hoover has massaged the modest stage at the Lortel into two distinct sets: the kitchen where most of the action takes place, and a dingy motel room where the runaway girl and her adoring boy take refuge. There is a charmingly funny small speech there from the Boy (Josh Green) as he discloses a childhood humiliation. This young actor plays it with surprising comic timing.
Watching the Girl (Lizzy DeClement) posturing and ranting, trying out behaviors, teasing and tormenting the Boy, you can’t wait for her to stop. In that, she is a completely authentic self-involved, oblivious teenaged girl. If DeClement stopped there, you could say she did her job. But, she manages two lovely transitions from that girl. She steps up to defend the Boy from real danger and she summons a tentative, flighty sweetness as she falls for him.
The script is rich and layered here as the daughter, enraged with her mother, is at once so like her mother. Playwright John Pollono is playing us, quite effectively. The girl is, of course, the mother; as every girl is her mother. But you don’t immediately realize how literally he intends it.
The deft hand of director Jo Bonney (Father Comes Home From the Wars at the Public last season) is everywhere—not least, in these well-crafted performances. What’s more, she juxtaposes scenes that seem to be simultaneous, playing with time and with us. She doesn’t so much tip her hand as she allows the audience to discover what’s up. Bonney and Pollono are comfortable collaborators. Lucky us.
Lost Girls – By John Pollono; directed by Jo Bonney.
WITH: Piper Perabo (Maggie), Tasha Lawrence (Linda), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Lou), Meghann Fahy (Penny), Lizzy DeClement (Girl), Josh Green (Boy).
Designed by Richard Hoover; lighting by Lap Chi Chu; costumes by Teresa Squire; original music and sound design by Daniel Kluger. At the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, Manhattan, through November 29. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission.