Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Chilling Production of Frozen
Marin Theatre Company is presenting as its third production this season, the Tony-nominated drama Frozen by Bryony Lavery. This play was first seen at the UK's Birmingham Rep in 1998 where it won the prestigious Barclay Award for Best New Play. It made its New York debut at the small East 13th Street Theater in March of 2004 before transferring to the Circle in the Square in June, 2004. Swoosie Kurtz, Brían F. O'Byrne, Laila Robins and Sam Kitchin had the leads in this unsettling drama. Mr. O'Byrne won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the child molester and murderer.
The Marin Theatre Company is presenting the disquieting two-act drama on a proscenium stage and somehow it has lost its intensity. This is the kind of play that needs to be seen in a small space to get the full effect of the piece. That said, director Amy Glazer and the cast are presenting an excellent production of Lavery's disturbing drama of a child molester and serial murder, and the effect he has on the mother of one of his victims and an American psychiatrist. Each character has a certain amount of dignity, and the three never become over-sentimental or excessively sympathetic.
Frozen unfolds over a time span of several years in the midlands of England, and is structured as three separate monologues woven together. Rhona (not seen in the production) was kidnapped on the way to her grandmother's house and murdered. Five years later, her remains were found in a shed by a drifter named Ralph (Ron Gnapp). He confessed to her murder as well as killing seven other young girls.
American psychiatrist Agnetha (Stacy Ross), who has written a book on the psychology of serial killers, is interested in interviewing Ralph to see what makes him tick. She has been studying criminal anti-social behavior and, by doing so, offers the opportunity to the survivors to find forgiveness for the killer. She devises tests to determine if Ralph's upbringing was cause for him to murder young girls. Nancy (Lori Holt) grieving mother of the murdered child, has founded an organization dedicated to searching for missing kids. With her own demons to conquer, she must let go of the hostility and rage she has had since Rhona's remains were discovered. Nancy ultimately decides to meet head-on with her daughter's killer in prison.
Ron Gnapp (Happy End, Cat on the Hot Tin Roof at ACT) is incredible as the creepy nonchalant killer who describes how he lured Rhona into his van. He speaks completely without guilt and is only upset that his "expensive" collection of kiddie porn has been destroyed. Gnapp's midland English accent is perfect, along with some wonderful colloquialisms from that part of England. His breakdown in the second act is a tour de force of brilliant acting. The last scene involving Ralph is a chilling end to the drama.
Lori Holt (Fêtes de la Nuit, Finn in the Underworld) gives a painstaking, inquiring performance as Nancy. Her transition from guilt-ridden, mournful mother to activist is excellent. (Ms. Holt had a little difficulty with the Midland accent in the first scene on opening night. She tended to rush the speech, making it difficult to understand. However, during the second scene she got right into character and slowed down the difficult patterns of the dialect.)
Stacy Ross (Killer Joe, Splittin' the Raft, The Rivals) is excellent as the easily broken psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Agnetha Gottmundsdottir. She brings humanity to the role and creates a character whose personal life hampers her ability to disconnect her emotions from her work. Mike Reynolds in a non-speaking role as the guard has little to do but to look stern and make sure the criminal does not act up during the one on one with the doctor.
The title of the play refers to the emotional or psychological state of all three characters. The doctor alludes to the fact that she is an explorer when she says, "the Arctic frozen sea of the criminal mind." The playwright does not really cover any new ground on the workings of the mind, but the play is very compelling and you will remember it long after you leave the theater.
Eric Flatmo's set design is simple, an almost bare stage with a table and chairs and a large oblong box with a door and window representing an inner room. Kurt Landisman's lighting is perfect for this type of play and sound designer Steve Schoenbeck has devised some effects to make the production more dramatic.
Frozen play through February 11 at the Marin Theatre located at 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets please call 415-388-5208 or online at www.marintheatre.org.
Their next production will be David Wiltse's The Good German, opening on March 15 and running through April 15th.