'Lost Girls'

Anna Theoni DiGiovanni and Jonathan Lipnicki in Rogue Machine's production of "Lost Girls." (John Flynn)

John Pollono, author of the much-feted "Small Engine Repair," has supplied Rogue Machine with the world premiere of another gritty New Hampshire drama, "Lost Girls."

The play, about the reunion between a stressed-out retail clerk and her recovering alcoholic ex-husband after their teenage daughter goes missing, provides further theatrical evidence that the traumatic past doesn't die but rather moves underground, waiting for justice yet grateful for even a flicker of sympathy.

The production, directed with emotional sensitivity by Rogue Machine artistic director John Perrin Flynn, lays on the local color a bit thick in the opening moments. We're in white working-class New England, and the accents (similar to the "Saturday Night Live" Boston teen sketches) and grim furnishings don't let us forget it.

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Reality parodies itself readily enough, so allowances are to be made for the way social detail is served at times with a "Mama's Family" flourish. Similarly, the contrivances of the plot deserve some forbearance, for beneath the surface of this somewhat awkwardly set up drama is a truthful psychological study of characters trying to figure out how to coexist with their grievances.

There's a twist to this dysfunctional family drama that is at once surprising and completely integral. It doesn't just deepen Pollono's play but also adds another dimension to it — a lost dimension of innocence in a world of recrimination and pain.

The actors are excellent once their attention is taken up with the action rather than the milieu. As the mother of the missing teen, Jennifer Pollono, who has originated roles in several of her playwright husband's works, is particularly affecting in her hard-hitting confrontation scene with the equally potent Joshua Bitton, who plays her ex.

But it was Anna Theoni DiGiovanni and Jonathan Lipnicki (yes, the child star of "Jerry Maguire" fame has grown into a gifted actor) who broke my heart as young adults on the lam. Seeing the two bravely reach beyond their wounds toward an indelible moment of genuine intimacy more than makes up for the production's initial unsteadiness.

Another reason not to miss this ultimately very moving offering: The most poetic set changes I've seen in ages.

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

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'Lost Girls'

Where: Rogue Machine (in Theatre/Theater), 5041 Pico Blvd., LA.

When: 5 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Mondays. (Call for exceptions.) Ends Nov. 4.

Tickets: $30

Contact: (855) 585-5185 or http://www.roguemachinetheatre.com

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes