Bryony Lavery's play Frozen is a compelling yet flawed examination of three people caught up in the aftermath of a serial killer's arrest. They are the killer, the mother of one of his young victims, and a forensic psychiatrist assigned to the case. Quite simply, the killer and the mother are compelling, well-defined and non-stereotypical characters, and the psychiatrist is an arch and annoying caricature who sadly takes up at least a third of the play's nearly two-hour running time. Director Chay Yew has staged the piece with clarity and paced it well, and because he has cast two expert Seattle actors to carry the roles of the killer and the mother, the Empty Space production works well enough, though the subject matter or the play's flaws led to several audience members departing at intermission at the performance I attended.
It is a joy to see veteran actress Lori Larsen, so often cast as eccentrics and dotty old ladies, here entrusted with a role requiring strength, subtlety, irony, and pent up grief and anger. Larsen scores on every count, and above all, makes us understand how a person like Nancy, despite some twenty years of not knowing whether her missing daughter was dead or alive, can find the strength to remake and move on in her life by forgiving her daughter's murderer. If there were Seattle Theatre awards, Ms. Larsen could easily walk away with a Best Actress nod for this moving yet subtle performance.
As the unrepentant child killer Ralph, Peter Crook manages to be creepy yet oddly sympathetic, the antithesis of a Hannibal Lecter style madman. The play hypothesizes that Ralph's behavior could be the result of physical abuse he received as a child, and Crook's Ralph makes sense of this assertion. He and Larsen have but one scene together, when Nancy comes to forgive Ralph, and it is played out with subtle perfection.
Kate Wisniewski as Agnetha, the psychiatrist, is saddled with an unlikable and virtually unplayable role, and she struggles with it in vain. Her first scenes require her to break down and cry, before we really have learned anything about her, and these moments earned inappropriate, awkward laughter. When she tries to keep Nancy from meeting with Ralph, her intentions are perhaps honorable if misguided, but it distances the audience from her even further.
John McDermott's spare, drab and chilly unit set design works in isolating each character (who speak mainly via monologues) in their own separate spaces. It's a tough show to recommend, but if you go to savor the fine work by Larsen and Crook, you won't come away disappointed.
Frozen runs through October 23 at The Empty Space, 3509 Fremont Avenue N. For more information visit www.emptyspace.org.