The daughter apples haven’t fallen far from the mother trees in LOST GIRLS, John Pollono’s (Small Engine Repair) engrossing blue-collar family dramedy at the Lucille Lortel, in an MCC Theater production. (It originally was produced at Los Angeles’s Rogue Machine Theatre.) There’s a lot to appreciate here, both in the writing and performances, but there’s also a humongous plot contrivance that requires tiptoeing through the plot to avoid giving away the spoiler.
We’re in the living room-kitchen of a plain little house in Manchester, New Hampshire, as a dangerous snowstorm rages outside and Maggie Lefebvre (Piper Perabo), a harried woman in her mid-30s, is rushing to get to work at her Bloomingdale’s outlet store sales job. Out the door she goes only to come back in a moment later, raging: “Goddamn motherfucking sonofagoddamn cunt!” This is close to the perpetually angry Maggie’s standard level of discourse, raised here to a slightly more profane level because her old Honda Accord (her “caarh” as they say in New England) is gone, apparently stolen. Soon enough, her live-in mom, Linda (Tasha Lawrence), a blowzy, bleached blonde still given to wearing thongs, enters; once she begins cursing—I mean talking—we see where the seed that became Maggie comes from.
|Piper Perabo, Tasha Lawrence. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
Turns out that Maggie’s high school sweetheart and ex-husband, Lou (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a recovering alcoholic with whom she maintains a tense relationship, is the state trooper coming over to make out the report, and that the couple’s teenage daughter—a girl half their own ages—didn’t go to school that day. Two plus two equals the daughter’s having run away and taken the Honda. The chip on chain-smoking Maggie’s shoulder grows exponentially larger over the play’s 90 intermissionless minutes: she’s broke and afraid of losing her job, her daughter and car are gone, she bickers with her mother, and Lou arrives accompanied by Penny (Megghan Fahy), his pretty, young, piously Christian wife (whom the dependably sarcastic Maggie unfairly calls “a boring, fuckin’ retard”). As the evening wears on, the reasons for Maggie and Lou’s breakup and why there’s still glue bonding them together come sharply into focus.
|Piper Perabo, Tasha Lawrence, Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
The sniping snottiness of Linda and Maggie, the restrained reactions of Lou, who struggles to maintain his demeanor, and the upbeat sweetness of Penny, who takes the insults aimed at her in stride, make for both dramatic and comic fireworks, although there’s a limit to how much one can take of Maggie’s nonstop nastiness. Once the family dynamic is established the stage right side of the living room flips around to turn the space into a Connecticut motel room, where a teenage girl (Lizzy DeClement) and boy (Josh Green), enter, brushing off the snow.
|Josh Green, Lizzy DeClemente. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
It doesn’t take long before we discover that she’s a 16-year-old running away to meet a much older man in Florida, and he, the same age, is being paid to drive her there, even though he’s a good, clean-cut kid, who’s taking a big chance in doing something so stupid. She has the same potty-mouthed snarkiness as Maggie, but the boy’s crazy for her anyway. Despite the idiocy and danger of their adventure they share a cautiously optimistic view of what the future holds in store. One thing leads to another and, ultimately, they make a blood vow that if, some day . . . no, I’ve got to stop here before the spoiler police get me. Suffice it to say that the play returns to Maggie’s house, there’s a power outage just as Lou gets a frightening report of a car accident, that the conclusion borders on the overly sentimental, and that not all you see is what you may at first think it is.
|Tasha Lawrence, Meghann Fahy, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Piper Perabo. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
The play gains greatly from Jo Bonney’s incisive direction and its potent performances. Ms. Perabo brings fierce defiance and subtle vulnerability to Maggie; Ms. Lawrence is razor sharp as her slash and burn mother; Mr. Moss-Bachrach proves appealingly sympathetic as Maggie’s former spouse, struggling to remain cool in the face of her antagonism; Ms. Fahy is winningly effective in showing Penny’s struggle to do the right thing; Ms. DeClement brings fearsome rebelliousness to the manipulative runaway; and Mr. Green is convincingly innocent and boyishly compliant as her love-addled accomplice.
Richard Hoover’s blue living room interior and seedy hotel room, Theresa Squire’s authentic costumes, Lap Chi Chu’s versatile lighting, and Daniel Kluger’s mood-setting sound design all make effective contributions. Mr. Pollono’s vulgarity-peppered, New England-accented dialogue crackles with sharp ripostes, and his characters—despite some exaggeration—are sharply enough defined to make them both entertaining and plausible. While the setup leading to the big reveal employs the kind of clever trick that seems increasingly contrived the more you think about it, LOST GIRLS would probably be lost without it.
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Through November 29