Three sisters stand in the parlor of their father’s Brooklyn grocery store awaiting the arrival of a shipmate of their brother to deliver news of his fate. It’s World War II, and Johnny is missing in action in the European theater.

So begins the 90-minute one-act play, “A Child’s Guide to Innocence,” presented beginning this weekend by Snowlion Repertory Company at Ludcke Auditorium at the University of New England in Portland.

Featuring a cast of three, the play by Vincent Sessa follows the lives of three generations of Italian-American women as they negotiate life, loss and the elusive path to happiness.

The Snowlion Repertory production marks the New England premiere of the play, which got its first production in New Jersey in 2005. It’s also the first drama produced by Snowlion, which until now has made its niche as a producer of musical theater. This is the company’s fourth show since arriving on the Portland theater scene in 2010.

“It was time for us to do a drama, and this was the right one for us to do,” said Margit Ahlin, Snowlion’s producing director.

“A Child’s Guide to Innocence” has three scenes, all centered around one of the sisters, Francie, played by Laura Houck. The opener is set in 1944 as the sisters await word of their brother. The second and third scenes are set in 1975 and 1995 in Francie’s Long Island home. Instead of her sisters, these later scenes involve her children and grandchildren, played by Elizabeth Lardie and Kathryn Perry.

The play follows 50 years of Francie’s life and how the events of that June day in 1944 influence not only her own existence, but subsequent generations of her family. Ultimately, this show is about her ability to find happiness despite facing tremendous grief and loss.

Snowlion settled on this show soon after the massacre at Newtown, Conn.

“Because we are who we are, we tend to choose pieces that respond to what we’re feeling in the time, in the moment,” Ahlin said.

“This play really talks about a timely issue. With all this discord going on around us, how do we live? How do we cope? When do we lose our innocence? And when do we get it back?”

Director Al D’Andrea calls “A Child’s Guide to Innocence” life-affirming. It raises spiritual and ethical questions, he said.

“Francie is a character who has joy and compassion in her instinctively. She is in touch with her emotional happiness and is grappling with what she confronts in her life,” he said. “Through her, we see that it’s OK to be happy and to find happiness in difficult situations.”

D’Andrea likes the idea of producing this show in Ludcke, a former church. “The resonance of its former life as a church has a spiritual quality to it that lends itself very well to this play,” he said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes