note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Agnetha Gottmundsdottir … Adrianne Hewlett
Nancy Shirley … Nancy E. Carroll
Ralph Wantage … Bates Wilder
Bryony Lavery’s three-character FROZEN, at New Repertory Theatre, is a chain of alternating monologues and few interacting duets, but its theme, alone --- the abduction, rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl in England --- grips one’s attention, nonetheless. Ms. Lavery sets Nancy Shirley, the victim’s mother, and Ralph Wantage, the serial killer, on their separate but paralleling paths and whenever they fumble and grope their way through the crime, FROZEN become the universal dread of every parent. When American psychiatrist Agnetha Gottmundsdottir enters with her dissertation “Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act?” and probes the “frozen” regions of Ralph’s psychosis, FROZEN turns television-y as Nancy’s tragedy (also frozen in place until acceptance thaws her) is diluted by Agnetha’s cool, academic stance; the monologues now become talky --- even showy, at times --- I came away feeling that FROZEN had begun as a play and concluded as its own dissertation.
The New Rep production adds its own detachment with Richard Wadsworth Chambers’ sand-garden setting of three raised chairs resting on the sand passing as snow --- an odd choice, since winter never enters the picture, but Mr. Chambers’ gimmick pays off when used to wallow in or to bury certain props with a sweep of the hand and there is a marvelous moment when Nancy confronts Ralph by placing her chair before him and pressing down so that its “crunch” means business and Karen Perlow’s blue-and-orange lighting cuts beautiful swathes across the black-and-whiteness. Adam Zahler directs with an equally distancing arm (“classical”, if you will) and is fortunate to have a trio who still suggests the fire beneath the thick-ribbed ice. As the mother, Nancy E. Carroll proves that she is Boston’s leading tragedienne; her performing style remains stark as a bone but now she mixes her toughness with a fresh, wounded vulnerability --- her one-on-one with Ralph is downplayed and softened; I was told that Broadway’s Swoosie Kurtz showed more calculation to achieve her results. Adrianne Hewlett, new to me, gives Agnetha some amazing spin-on-a-dime crying jags due to a more acceptable crime of her own though “American” in this context means being as fluttery and scattered as “British” means poker-faced and stoic, and Bates Wilder is bloody wonderful as Ralph. The role is a monster to be gazed upon with fascinated revulsion yet human enough to warrant Agnetha’s soapboxing and Mr. Wilder turns his strapping presence and droll timing into something broken and dangerous, masked by a still-innocent boyishness. (How else could he lure his victims to him?) Mr. Wilder’s final exit puts FROZEN back under Tragedy’s wing and paves the way for the Mss. Carroll and Hewlett’s coda where the clinical reverts once again to the personal/universal.