Humanity in its rarest form comes to light in the Rockville Little Theatre’s presentation of Frozen by Bryony Lavery. Directed by Kevin O’Connell, this play focuses on the dramatic relationship between a serial killer, the mother of one of his victims, and the psychiatric scientist who comes to evaluate the killer as a part of her study to determine whether or not he is criminally insane. Frozen is a harrowing drama that dissects human nature, peeling it back like layers of skin after a sunburn – the deeper it delves the more it hurts. There are desperate truths that are exposed, the raw emotions that come to the surface in the wake of tragedy are unnerving to witness but the play makes you think and it makes you assess your judgment of right and wrong and of morality.
Lighting Designer Jacinda Shelly strengthens the three -way split of the stage with tight focused spotlights and slow fades over each scene as they end. There is a particular moment that calls for breathtaking pause, accentuated by Shelly’s design. The Tibetan Prayer flags are strung across the clothesline with Nancy standing beneath them, gazing up to them as if they hold all the answers in the world and as the moment ends the lights highlight the flags in such a stark contrast to the blackened scene that they take on a life of their own – four powerful strips of color fluttering in the night like beacons of hope shining in the darkness of tragedy.
At times the production feels ill paced, moving sluggishly between scenes, with a slightly longer blackout to denote time passage, forcing the actors to have to snap us back to their lives. It is done with a stunning sound montage of important world disasters and political happenings from 1980 through to just before 2000. Each of the characters – especially Ralph -speak with a stilted slowness, as if they are actualizing their thoughts before vocalizing them – and while this is suitable for one character – it seems to be a hindrance to the show’s timing when used as a tactic by all three players.
We are introduced to the characters in their own element, each world separate from the other— divided across the stage in three parts. Seldom do we see interactions between them – but their monologues build these deep relationships between the characters – so when they finally do interact – there is a well established common bond. The actors develop their worlds through simple actions and subtle deliveries of text, giving us that insight into their lives that we would otherwise not see.
Agnetha (Erin A. Finucane) is the character from whom we see the most sudden and dynamic change. She starts out in an apartment in a fit of gut-wrenching hysterics. Finucane is hunched over on the floor sobbing and then pulls herself together to leave the stage. Several scenes later she reappears at a conference and begins to speak with poignant and well articulated words in a scientific vein. She speaks with confidence, and levels a cool gaze out across the audience -she uses this approach when addressing Ralph (Phil Hosford) in his prison cell as well.
Ralph (Hosford) is a deplorable character who boils your blood with his ease in regarding his profession as a methodical pedophilic serial killer. Hosford enforces an energy into this disgraceful character that really irks you – the more you listen to him speak the more disgusted you feel with him. Hosford crafts his words with an ease that feels slimy and makes you shudder, every sentence that slips from his mouth trying to make you see the humanity in what he’s done. He commands a tremendous amount of emotional focus, however, when he finally begins to understand what exactly he has done— how hurting his victims was as frightening and scary to them – as his own abusive father was to him. The sheer terror and anguish that draws over his face is haunting and will leave you questioning your own judgment of this character.
The driving force behind it all is Nancy (Erica Smith.) She takes the audience on a roller coaster of emotions with unexpected twists and turns that go up and down faster than you can even comprehend all of them. Smith portrays a woman who is strong and weak at the same time. She has a shocking monologue that starts of as a strong angry rant against Ralph and then delves into the harrowing sorrows of survivor’s guilt and remorse for not being able to have prevented it -as all nurturing mothers feel that things would have ended differently if they had just been there. The growth of her character is astonishing, from the cheerful typical every day mom breaking up quarrels between her two daughters, to the frightened woman who anxiously awaits her missing daughters return. And then she spirals into a dark place of anger, confusion and desperation, climbing out of the hole by the end to be a calm and easily centered woman, able and willing to forgive. It’s an unforgettable performance not to be missed.
Frozen defines justice and morality in a whole new light as these fine actors invite you into their lives. It’s powerful theatre.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Frozen plays through April 15, 2012 through The Rockville Little Theatre at The Randolph Road House Theatre -4010 Randolph Road, in Silver Spring, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door, so call the box office at (301) 221-5434 for reservations.