Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the July 28, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: ‘Frozen’
When "Frozen," a mesmerizing play by Britain’s Bryony Lavery, opened
at Off-Broadway’s MCC Theater it received the kind of enthusiastic
reviews that move a show to Broadway. Let’s hope there is a sizable
audience uptown for the kind of excellent serious theater that
"Frozen" brings. Arriving on these shores a good six years after it
won London’s Barclay Award for Best New Play, the play presents the
theme "you can forgive the unforgivable," treated with great care and
sensitivity by a writer who has (according to her bio) swum against
the mainstream with verve, nerve, and success.
Set in the U.K., "Frozen" deals with three principal characters, each
of whom is starkly revealed as emotionally stranded. Their
introduction takes place through a series of monologues and eventually
duologues that not only shed light on the deeply troubled and
conflicted personas but afford us the opportunity to consider the
unspeakable compulsions and aberrations that motivate some people. The
interactions are set in motion by the heinous act of a pedophile
serial killer that connects the victim’s mother, a clinical
psychiatrist, and the murderer.
The act, specifically the murder of a little girl abducted on the way
to her grandmother’s home, is committed by Ralph (Brian F. O’Bryne,
winner of this year’s Tony Award for Outstanding Leading Male Role in
a Play), the pedophile serial killer whose capture and incarceration
provides an opportunity for the girl’s mother, Nancy (Swoosie Kurtz),
to shatter the glacial mental fortress she has imprisoned herself in
for the last 20 years.
Ralph’s capture also becomes a means by which Agnetha (Laila Robins),
a clinical psychiatrist, can test her own published theories – "Serial
Killing: A Forgivable Act?" – about what causes and motivates a serial
killer, as much as it forces her to confront her own personal demons.
Curiously, Agnetha is reluctant to let Nancy visit Ralph for fear of
an incendiary situation. It is this fear that sustains much of the
At first the play seems too deliberately passive in the telling and
too pretentiously structured. Yet, under Doug Hughes’ direction, it
builds exponentially and more explosively with the passing of every
scene. It is for the grief-stricken Nancy to draw us into her
painfully empty life since her little girl’s disappearance, with a
heartbreaking portrayal that is not without touches of wry perverse
humor. Kurtz’s performance, including a flawless regional British
dialect, is so real and compelling that you can almost taste the dark
empty icy void she exists within.
Nancy is shown, however, not to be so withdrawn that she wasn’t able
to be an activist in a group that searches for missing children. The
play reaches its most unnerving moments when Nancy and Ralph are
finally face to face in the prison.
If there is optimism to be seen, it is in Nancy’s need to heal much of
her long festering rage and harness her desire for vengeance. One
assumes that she will finally be able to reconnect with another older
daughter (unseen), who has sadly been a victim of her mother’s
Robins also gives us a strong portrait of a clinician who is eager to
validate and corroborate her theories, but who is also struggling to
examine the roots of her own unhappiness. You won’t be able to take
your eyes off O’Byrne as a creepy seemingly indifferent killer who is
eventually led to expose the origins of his particular pathology. His
performances gives us a haunting portrayal of a depraved man who is
literally unable to control what he does.
The production is simple but effective. Scenic designer Hugh
Landwehr’s contribution of only a couple of chairs and a blue
backdrop, effectively lighted by Clifton Taylor, are really all that
is needed to enhance this extraordinary play.
– Simon Saltzman
Frozen, Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway (at West 50th Street).
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