An absorbing look at an 'ordinary' monster

Arguments about evil come to life through 3 characters in 'Frozen'

February 28, 2010|By Mary Johnson | Special to The Baltimore Sun

Colonial Players' current production of Bryony Lavery's "Frozen" might well prove a chilling experience for audiences as it sheds light on the ordinariness of a pedophile's acceptance of his serial murders.

British dramatist Lavery's play premiered in London in 1998 and debuted in New York in 2004, challenging audiences with its juxtaposed themes: a mother clinging to hope for her abducted daughter, a forensic psychologist who looks for a scientific explanation for monstrous behavior and a killer who boasts about and bemoans the loss of his prized collection of child pornography.

Director James Gallagher's notes in the program are recommended reading before the play:

"Each of the three characters has been immobilized: one in hope, then grief; another in obsession; and another in her conviction that every question has a logical answer. During the course of the play the metaphorical ice floes melt and more is revealed of suppressed or denied facets of what it is to be human."

In this superbly realized and profound drama, Colonial Players courageously invites audiences to confront some serious issues and challenges us to question basic assumptions.

Pedophilia leading to crimes against children and reports of missing children are all too frequent topics in today's news. The much-deliberated religious and scientific responses on inherent evil defy an easy answer. Lavery presents these arguments in dynamic color through her three characters.

Jim Gallagher, a Shakespeare Theatre-trained actor, is as much a perfectionist in his directing as in his performing.

The cast is top-notch in equally demanding roles, each reflecting a unique perspective expressed in fascinating counterpoint.

First we encounter psychologist Agnetha, played by Laura Gayvert, who describes the character as "a strong, driven and normally self-assured woman who has become unmoored and is struggling to find answers."

In the complex opening scene in Agnetha's New York apartment, Gayvert must communicate ambivalence during a monologue. Her character is struggling to contain her grief over the loss of a colleague while trying to summon the strength for her next case in London. Rarely is an actor faced with such tour-de-force demands in an opening scene, and Gayvert delivers the full gamut of complex emotions.

Gayvert's Agnetha coolly posits her scientific theories that a criminal's acts result from brain damage or faulty nurturing; evil does not exist. In her scenes with the criminal, Ralph, she conveys a clinical acceptance of his unorthodox behavior. And Gayvert reveals in her scenes with the victim's mother, Nancy, some discernible cracks in her protective iciness, which widen enough for her to give vent to the immense loss of her colleague.

Mary MacLeod as Nancy projects palpable fear when she discovers that her 10-year-old daughter, Rhona, has disappeared. Later, she maintains unwavering hope that Rhona will be found. Finally, she feels abject despair after learning years later that her child's remains have been discovered.

Despair at why her child was killed turns to rage toward the killer before evolving into a kind of forgiveness. MacLeod's Nancy is never detached from her pain, but is without self-pity, which intensifies the audience's sympathy for her grief, rage and humanity.

I was amazed at Thurston Cobb's full realization of "ordinary" pedophile-killer Ralph. From his opening monologue describing his plans for abducting the little girl, to his blustering and later sexist demeaning of Agnetha, Cobb's Ralph is a frightening and fascinatingly unpredictable character whose remorse is slow to arrive.

In the nonspeaking role of a prison guard, Aubrey Baden proves how reassuring and empathetic a warm human presence can be.

More disturbing than entertaining, "Frozen" is absorbing theater for thoughtful theatergoers.

If you go
Colonial Players cautions that "Frozen" is not suitable for children. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Call the box office at 410-268-7373 to order tickets.

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