Theater : "Frozen" an investigation of evil
Bryony Lavery addresses two vital questions in her 2004 Tony nominated play: Is a child-molesting serial killer evil? And can a mother whose child has been murdered find her way to forgiveness?
Grim subjects - heinous acts such as child molestation and murder - might not seem like natural summertime entertainment unless you have a commitment to the capacity of theatre to explore moral issues.
The British playwright's "Frozen," playing tonight and tomorrow, August 27 and 28, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, defines its moral dilemmas through three characters: Icelandic-born psychiatrist Agnetha, (played by Terri Deletetsky of Boston's Company One); incarcerated serial killer Ralph (Rich Roode, founder of Boston's Boiler Company, and a former student of Edgartown director Raymond Munro); and Nancy, the victim's mother played by Edgartown's Virginia Penta, a founding member of Foxrock Performance Company, which produced the show.
As part of her research on why men commit such crimes, Agnetha, the psychiatrist, travels to England to interview Ralph 21 years after his murder of 10-year-old Rhona. From her perspective, a damaged soul like Ralph is not evil so much as ill. Rhona's mother Nancy is still emotionally frozen by the loss of her daughter, and full of vengeful thoughts about Ralph. Then there is Ralph: evil incarnate or redeemably wounded?
Ms. Penta, who with her husband helped found Foxrock Performance Company in 2001, is a standout in a play where each role presents a host of challenges. She brings warmth and credibility to Nancy.
In her role as Agnetha, Ms. Deletetsky struggles with the neuroses with which the playwright has weighted her character. She does a good job, however, in negotiating an appropriately academic tone about the nature of the disease that affects the criminals she studies.
It's a toss-up whether her role or Mr. Roode's is the more difficult one. He must establish a delicate balance between Ralph's heinous behavior and his humanity. Mr. Roode's angelic mien becomes a liability for him in conveying this complex character, and he tends to over-rely on facial grimaces. He is most successful when he uses body and gestures to communicate Ralph's nature. Ralph has clearly been damaged by abusive parents, but that doesn't obfuscate the question of responsibility for his crimes.
The playwright often moves the three characters around like chess pieces, but the most engaging parts of the play are when they interact. The heart of the play comes when Nancy and Ralph meet in the second act. The play's resolution holds some surprises that nicely weave together the characters.
The set consists of a series of five panels of disconcertingly pastoral trees, one of which extends the actor's space beyond the stage in an imaginative way. The music that director Mr. Munro has chosen adds palpably to the play's mood, sometimes through haunting choral pieces and church bells that reinforce through contrast the playwright's secular worldview. The effect of one musical rock piece on Ralph carries echoes of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, "A Clockwork Orange."
"It's a tough piece," says Mr. Munro, who is a professor of Theatre Arts at Clark University in Worcester. "It raises questions of spiritual crisis that are reminiscent for me of Beckett's work. I am interested in the play because of its differing points of view."
The last play Mr. Munro and Ms. Penta brought to the Vineyard was Beckett's "Endgame," which played at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in 2005. Their aim is to do one play a year on the Island, although the challenges of bringing a theatrical production to the Vineyard led to a hiatus in on-Island Foxrock performances. "Frozen" is its first production here in three years.
"We operate on a shoestring, but we have some benefactors," Mr. Munro says. "We live here, and we want to perform here." The couple plans for Foxrock Company to perform French playwright Yasmina Reza's "The Unexpected Man" at the Katharine Cornell Theatre next summer.
"Frozen," Foxrock Performance Company, Thursday, August 27, and Friday, August 28, 8 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $20 at the door. For more information, go to foxrock.org.
Brooks Robards reviews theater, films, and books for The Times.