Review: Frozen by Bryony Lavery. Produced by ArtsWest Theatre. Directed by Mathew Wright. Scenic Design by Christopher Mumaw. Costume Design by Candace Frank. Lighting Design by Ryan Dunn. Sound Design by Johanna Melamed. Properties Design by Andrea Spraycar. With Amy Thone, Peter Crook, Jonelle Jordan. Now through May 14, 2017 at ArtsWest.
ArtsWest is currently staging Frozen, Bryony Lavery’s acclaimed (and controversial) 1998 drama about a British pedophile/child killer, the anguished mother of one of his victims and an American doctor who studies the behavior of serial killers. The majority of the play is told through the use of monologues from each of the three characters and the story begins shortly before the killer, Ralph abducts and murders 10 year old Rhona while her mother Nancy frets about the whereabouts of her daughter. Though it’s not clear at first, the female doctor character Agnetha is actually telling her story from the present (1998) while Ralph and Nancy begin their monologues many prior when Rhona was originally killed. As the play progresses, Ralph and Nancy’s timeline eventually meets up with Agnetha’s and the three begin having scenes with one another as Nancy confronts the doctor about meeting with the incarcerated Ralph who is being examined and studied by Agnetha as part of a long term medical/criminology case study.
Frozen is a topical play and one obviously fascinating to much of the viewing public; society has been enamored of hearing about nasty killers for…well, always. Ms Lavery’s carefully constructed script is gripping as she follows each of the three lives and gradually intertwines them to a poignant and dramatic conclusion. But, I have to admit that personally I only found two of the three stories to be compelling. Naturally, Ralph’s chilling monologues and the emotional journey that grieving mom Nancy takes are both fascinating and full of human emotion. However, I just didn’t find the doctor’s story to be as interesting…her problems seem trite and her story arc just feels like filler to connect the other two plot threads. To be honest, I wish that either the doctor character had a smaller role or maybe was even replaced by another character…maybe Rhona herself (though that sounds too much like the novel “The Lovely Bones”) or her sister who appears in the mother’s story.
That said, all three actors are strong in their roles with Peter Crook superbly compelling as the killer Ralph and Amy Thone equally excellent as the grieving then vengeful mom. Jonelle Jordan is also good as the doctor but as I stated above, her character pales in comparison to the other two dramatically speaking.
Frozen is well staged by ArtsWest artistic director Mathew Wright on a set (designed by Christopher Mumaw) consisting of “three islands”, raised platforms placed relatively close together, where each character inhabits as their “home space” where they give their initial monologues in the play. Gradually, the actors begin to move about somewhat and start inhabiting different spaces and by the end of the play, they move freely about all three platforms and begin utilizing the space outside those platforms as well. It’s a handsome production with carefully chosen costumes by Candace Frank, revealing the changes in the character’s lives and effect lighting and sound design by Ryan Dunn and Johanna Melamed, respectively.
Not surprisingly, Frozen is a dark and emotionally fraught play. It’s probably not best suited for those who have issues with stories about abused and murdered children. But, if you appreciate dark and difficult material like this that is superbly acted and produced, it’s strongly recommended. Frozen’s chilly heart is dramatically penetrable and compelling.