Not far from Theatre Exile’s Studio X, where a punch-in-the-gut drama called “Lost Girls” is playing, there’s a mural that says in huge letters: ”LIFE TRIED TO BURY US BUT WE ARE THE ROOT AND THE SEED.” When I passed it about five minutes after the show ended Wednesday on opening night, I was bowled over. With precision, as if the mural were planted there for the purpose, it distilled the script of “Lost Girls.”
That taut, muscular script is by John Pollono, who’s also the screenwriter for “Sounder,” a drama about the Boston Marathon bombing starring Jake Gyllenhall, soon to be released. “Lost Girls,” too, is set in New England, in a New Hampshire town during a blizzard. There, in a small home, live the story’s three lost girls – a family with little hope for digging out of static lives that seem without promise. They are a young grandmother, her daughter and teenaged granddaughter. If they have nothing else, they have their ties to each other — roots and seeds, buried by life. Will they ever be able to blossom as they grow?
They’re played to perfection by Catharine Slusar as the grandmother, Molly Ward as her daughter, and Susanne Collins as the granddaughter. The characters are lost figuratively: The granddaughter’s stuck in a cycle of aimlessness in school, her divorced mom is in a low-paying job that leaves the family a cushion of about $30 a month, and Grandma hangs around in her robe and pajamas. She leads the life of a sponger off a family whose sponge is dry.
When one of them can’t be found — and is literally lost to the others — they hit emotional rock bottom just as any family would when someone’s gone missing in a blizzard. You hit the bottom with them. I won’t say more because I can’t give the play’s turns away, except to cite its single unfortunate dent: As the end of the 90-minute one-act approaches, Pollono introduces a coincidence that’s supposed to be poignant but is so transparently contrived, it’s laughable.
We can look past Pollono’s lack of judgment at that point because the rest of “Lost Girls” works so well. It has three other characters, all meticulously drawn and played with nuance by Amy Frear, Sean Bradley and Trevor William Fayle.
The production is staged on Colin McIlvaine’s nifty turntable set by Theatre Exile’s founding artistic director Joe Canuso. It strikes a flexible but dead-on tone for a play that’s desperately tense, often funny and at times sweet and innocent. All this, while the characters — and you — sit on the family’s proverbial powder keg.
—“Lost Girls,” produced by Theatre Exile, runs through March 12 at Studio X, 13th and Reed Streets. 215-218-4022 or theatreexile.org.