Reviewed by Judy Richter
The need to forgive and move on is at the heart of Bryony Lavery's "Frozen," being given a sharp production under the direction of Amy Glazer at Marin Theatre Company. Set in England, the plot focuses on a mother, Nancy (Lorri Holt), whose 10-year-old daughter has been abducted, raped, killed and her body hidden for five years by a psychopath, Ralph (Rod Gnapp). An American forensic psychiatrist, Agnetha (Stacy Ross), has a series of interviews with the jailed Ralph as part of her continuing research into early childhood abuse as a cause of adult psychosis. She postulates that the abuse causes brain damage that makes the person incapable of controlling his impulses and feeling empathy or remorse.
Playwright Lavery based much of Agnetha's research on the real-life work of researchers Dorothy Lewis and Jonathan Pincus as reported in an article by Malcolm Gladwell. Lewis and Gladwell subsequently accused Lavery of plagiarism, thus beclouding the play in controversy that, for the most part, has been resolved.
"Frozen" is a difficult play for both actors and audience because it consists primarily of shifting monologues as the story unfolds. It also calls on the actors to express deep pain, primarily grief. Guided by Glazer, all three actors -- mainstays of the Bay Area theater scene -- successfully cope with the play's emotional demands. Ross, for example, has to open the play with a scene that finds her character wailing with grief just as she's about to fly to England to work with Ralph. We later learn that Agnetha is grieving for the death of David, her longtime colleague and collaborator. Throughout the play, Agnetha tries to suppress her grief and -- we later learn -- guilt as she goes about her professional duties.
Holt has the challenge of conveying Nancy's grief and inevitable guilt. Nancy deals with not knowing what has happened to her daughter, then learning about her death and finally trying to find a way to forgive the man whom she despises beyond measure. For his part, Gnapp's Ralph maintains an outwardly calm, calculating demeanor, often parrying with Agnetha but finally expressing some of his own pain from the past.
Despite the near-flawless directing and acting -- along with fine design work by Erik Flatmo on sets, Fumiko Bielefeldt on costumes, Kurt Landisman on lighting and Steve Schoenbeck on sound -- the play's structure hinders full enjoyment. Too much of the plot is propelled by descriptions rather than actions, and the English accents used by Gnapp and Holt are sometimes difficult to understand.
Nevertheless, it's a thought-provoking work highlighted by the work of three superb actors.