A Theater on a Roll

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

It's a wicked bad snowstorm. A nor'easter. Whole town's snowed in, schools closing. The kind of day it's safer just to stay home but Mags has to get to her lousy job at Filene's Basement. She can't afford to be fired. This month's cushion? $23 bucks. As she says, "I'm a pizza and a six pack away from bouncing the [fucking] electric bill" It's tough being a single mom.

So Mags heads out to her 2002 Honda only to find it's not there. Someone stole it. Bastards!

Or so she thinks until she discovers her 17-year-old daughter never made it to school. Panic mode. Call the cops. Just Mags' luck her recovering alcoholic ex-husband is a cop. Guess who responds to the call? Yup, her ex with his skinny new wife in tow. The day can't get any worse can it?

That's the setup for John Pollono's world premiere play Lost Girls at Rogue Machine Theatre.

The 90 minute play that unfolds is a darkly comic, dysfunctional family drama that revolves around three generations of women struggling to break free of "degenerate bad decision blood" that runs in their family.

Lost Girls has a lot in common with recent productions at Rogue Machine, a company that's on something of a roll. They were just nominated for 12 Ovation awards, among them "Best Season."

So what's the common thread to their theater? Lost Girls is really well cast, not just with talented actors but with interesting actors. Actors who often don't look like 'LA actors.' The plays they're choosing are about broken, struggling people: it's more about grit than glamour. Directorially, they're good at the basics: telling a story, playing the beats. Their sets tend towards the hyper-real: these are walls with outlets and working appliances. For Lost Girls, there's even snow swirling outside the window. Dramaturgically, Rogue Machine seems to favor stories with a big plot revelation in the third act - something that turns the story on its head and has you re-imagining who you thought the characters were. They are play after play doing what so few theater companies in LA, big or small, are doing: defining an aesthetic.

Lost Girls falls squarely in that world. As enjoyable as it is, it's not the best work they've done. The challenges revolve mostly around the script. Mr. Pollono has a wonderful ear for his characters and that particular North Eastern, caustic sarcasm, but the script gets bogged down in backstory. At its heart it's a family story about how everyone got to this moment rather than what's actually happening in the moment. It succumbs to that staple of recovering alcoholic dramas - the confession of how it all got so bad. You begin to feel like you've heard this story before which is ashame because we really haven't.

The big reversal in act three? Don't worry, I won't give it away - except to say it's worth making another trip to Rogue Machine: a company that's finding that rare commodity in LA theater: consistency.

Lost Girls plays at Rogue Machine Theatre on Pico Boulevard through November 4.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 90 minutes without an intermission.

Banner image: KirstenKollender, Joshua Bitton, Peggy Dunne and Jennifer Pollono in Rogue Machine's World Premiere production of Lost Girls by John Pollono. Photo: John Flynn