Lost and Found

John Pol­lono’s latest play fo­cuses on a group of wo­men in a blue-col­lar fam­ily strug­gling to rise above their means.


lay­wright, act­or and screen­writer John Pol­lono has starred in mul­tiple break­out TV hits—in­clud­ing cur­rently star­ring on the wildly pop­u­lar “This is Us” on NBC—but feels most com­fort­able put­ting pen to pa­per. The New Eng­land-raised play­wright has had crit­ic­ally suc­cess with 2013’s Small En­gine Re­pair, a comed­ic play about re­united high school friends. His latest, Lost Girls, open­ing this week at Theat­er Ex­ile, is sort-of a com­pan­ion piece to 2 ”Small En­gine Re­pair,” deal­ing with sim­il­ar themes and is­sues. In the fe­male-cent­ric “Lost Girls,” 16-year-old Erica goes miss­ing after a winter storm, for­cing her di­vorced par­ents, Mag­gie and Lou, to re­unite and deal with the con­sequences of their past de­cisions. SPR caught up Pol­lono from his home in Los Angeles to dis­cuss the themes in his work and how he got in­to the mind­set of a wo­man. 

Tell us about “Lost Girls.” What in­spired you to write the play?

Well, I wrote a play called “Small En­gine Re­pair” which was a very testoster­one-fueled mas­cu­line ver­sion of this neigh­bor­hood. Them­at­ic­ally, it was very sim­il­ar. And I was kind of ID­ing how to do the fe­male ver­sion of that. I come from a long line of teen­age moth­ers and I wanted to show that world and to ex­plore those themes with­in the world I grew up in. I don’t feel that has ever really been ac­cur­ately rep­res­en­ted. … The theat­er is a fine place to ex­plore that space.

How did you get in­to the fe­male mind­set?

Well, I grew up with sis­ters. I love wo­men, I have strong wo­men in my house. A wife, and daugh­ter, so I know that voice very well. I have that voice in my head.  

It’s also set in New Hamp­shire where you grew up and where “Small En­gine Re­pair” took place. Are the two stor­ies re­lated?

If you pay close at­ten­tion, and if you’re fa­mil­i­ar with both plays you see that there’s an over­lap, they’re in the same uni­verse. “Lost Girls” takes place just be­fore “Small En­gine Re­pair.” I mean, it’s like a silly thing, it’s not like a Mar­vel uni­verse. I con­nec­ted them spir­itu­ally, them­at­ic­ally. Same neigh­bor­hood, same so­cioeco­nom­ic stand­ing. 

What should the audi­ence ex­pect? 

Well, I think, spe­cific­ally in the neigh­bor­hood I grew up in New Eng­land, the aes­thet­ic is ball-bust­ing. The com­edy there is like tak­ing the piss out of stuff. It’s like bust­ing balls, and a lot of the com­edy comes from there. It’s cop­ing with pain through hu­mor. You know, oth­er play­wrights ex­plore com­munit­ies where they are much more re­served. New Englanders are more re­served in terms of sen­ti­ment­al­ity, but they don’t hold back in terms of let­ting you know if they dis­agree with something. But when life is at it’s most tra­gic, we al­ways have hu­mor. And I really en­joy that space. I think there’s al­ways a com­bin­a­tion of the two in life. You know, more than any­thing I’ve ever writ­ten, this is a very vul­ner­able piece. And it’s very much about the emo­tions in the char­ac­ters. And if you don’t like the char­ac­ters, you’re not go­ing to like the play. Be­cause you have to go on this jour­ney with them. And everything really is tak­ing the no­tion, that you will re­spect and love these char­ac­ters, and you will go to un­usu­al, dark, … places with them.

Will you make it out to Philly to see the play?

We’ll see. I def­in­itely have a lot on my plate, I would love to see it. I have a new play open­ing up in March out here [in LA]. That’s keep­ing me busy amongst many oth­er sort of dead­lines.  

You’re def­in­itely busy, your re­sume is pretty im­press­ive. I know you’ve been star­ing on “This is Us” as well as oth­er mega-hits. What’s that like? 

It was kind of a fluke. You know, I def­in­itely con­sider my­self a writer and an act­or. But I sort of hit pause on act­ing the last two or so years. Be­cause the writ­ing has taken off so much, I’ve been so busy. Es­pe­cially writ­ing fea­tures and work­ing in TV. Then this act­ing job came along and I kind of lucked in­to it. And I’m a big fan of the show, but I haven’t been act­ively pur­su­ing act­ing as much. And some­times that’s what hap­pens when you don’t act­ively pur­sue something, you end up get­ting the op­por­tun­it­ies. That was cer­tainly the case here. It’s been really fun. It’s a great set, I mostly work with Ster­ling [Ster­ling K. Brown] on that show and he’s just awe­some. The way I ori­gin­ally met and knew him was see­ing him in plays. And there are a lot of play­wrights who write for the show. 

So which do you prefer most?

Well, I love act­ing, but I don’t love au­di­tion­ing. It’s a big pain in the ass. Writ­ing is keep­ing me busy so that’s where I go. But act­ing in things makes me a bet­ter writer, es­pe­cially when I act in theat­er. I’m cre­at­ing my own op­por­tun­it­ies by writ­ing stuff that I’m in. Keep­ing that itch scratched. But I mean, it’s so fun be­ing on a show as an act­or. I don’t have the time I used to have to pre­pare for au­di­tions. You know, in LA when you’re a pro­fes­sion­al act­or you’re also a pro­fes­sion­al driver and park­er, it’s all you do. I just don’t have the time for that.

Do you have any ad­vice for young play­wrights start­ing out? 

My biggest ad­vice is don’t write a play for two years and just sit on it. Write something and get it out. The audi­ence will make you a bet­ter writer than any­one else can. Get your­self pro­duced, self-pro­duced, do read­ings. And you have to learn how to shape your ma­ter­i­al based on it. Get your shit in front of an audi­ence by any means ne­ces­sary.

So, what’s next for you?  

I have a movie I wrote called “Stronger” com­ing out, which is about the Bo­ston Mara­thon [bomb­ing]. And I’m work­ing on a couple of oth­er movie pro­jects. And I’m turn­ing “Small En­gine Re­pair” in­to an in­die film as well. My ca­reer is at­trib­uted to theat­er, the theat­er has helped me cre­ate a voice as a writer. And it’s kept me out there. And now, there’s not enough time in the day for me to com­plete all the work I have to do. And it all star­ted in a little 99 seat theat­er.  

Lost Girls  

Play­ing through March 12. 
Stu­dio X, 1340 S. 13th St. 
Tick­ets: $10-$40