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

suspense.

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

emotional estrangement.

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).

212-239-6200.


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