ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
--- The Original Review
Briony Lavery's Frozen, which won London's prestigious Barclay Award for Best New Play of 1998 and is currently being given its American premiere by MCC Theater Company, is about the horror of pedophile serial killings. Not a play to make you forget your troubles by losing yourself in someone else's story! Neither does it move forward at a bracing gallop. In fact, the first eleven of its thirty-one scenes are alternating monologues in which the speaker is bathed in a curtain of light while the rest of the stage is cast in blackness.
If all this sounds too dark, depressing and slow, hold up on pressing that click-off icon and dismissing Frozen from your must-see list. Ms. Lavery is a sensitive and skilled enough writer to overcome monologue tedium and the unpalatable subject of child abuse and murder. By the time the monologues evolve into dynamic duologues she has humanized the killer without sentimentalizing him. She also has us rooting for Nancy, the mother of one of his victims, to unthaw her frozen by despair existence.
It is Nancy who will pull you into her story, a twenty-year odyssey of anguish and rage. While getting to know her is painful, and occasionally unbearably so, it engenders considerable rewards. Lavery has given Nancy a dry sense of humor that provides some tension-relieving chuckles; most importantly, she has Nancy soften just enough to satisfy our need for a hopeful ending, but without compromising character consistency and credibility
Director Doug Hughes adeptly orchestrates the shift from the andante tempo of the monologues to the more allegro-paced prison meetings, first between killer Ralph and research psychologist Agnetha, later between Ralph and Nancy. In the end he again slackens the tempo for a finale which completes the cycle of Nancy's tragedy with a satisfying absence of bathos.
In keeping with Lavery's aim to explore the nurture-over-nature aspects of pedophelia and murder, Brian O'Byrne is an unforgettable Ralph, portraying him less as a thriller style menace than a damaged personality who can no more cope with remorse than with the inner demons that triggered his monstrous acts.
Laila Robins has the most difficult role as the psychologist who has spent ten years developing her theory of serial killing as a "forgivable act." She is something of an authorial device for dramatically presenting factual information (I'm assuming that some of the theories Agnetha posits are based on authentic research?). It's a credit to Ms. Robins' acting that she has convincingly woven the sadness of her own story of loss into her cool researcher's persona since that subtext is the least persuasive unfreezing aspect of the play.
Hugh Landwehr's scenic design consists of a couple of chairs and a metaphoric blue backdrop of cracked, freezing water under which people like Nancy are trapped. While I'm not fond of the film-maker's technique of spotlighting actors against pitch black backgrounds, it's well executed by lighting designer Clifton Taylor. Kudos to costume designer Catherine Zuber for both Kurtz and Robins' outfits. Not since Master Class can I recall anyone looking as smashing in a tailored pants suit as Robins does here.
I saw Frozen just a week after another killer saga, Adrian Hall's In the Belly of the Beast Revisited. While Hall's docu-drama is grittier and more propulsive, Lavery's three-way focus is more emotionally engaging. As I walked out of Frozen, I found myself imagining Agnetha studying the society nurtured killer instinct of John Henry Abbott and having a conversation about it with Abbott's misguided champion, novelist-essayist Norman Mailer.
For a CurtainUp review of another of Byrony Lavery's plays, The Magic Toyshop, go here
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.