Playwright Bryony Lavery
By Bryony Lavery
Directed by Hannah Hoopingarner
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
When it premiered in 2004, Bryony Lavery’s Frozen was greeted with a fair amount of enthusiasm in both London and New York, with awards on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a powerful piece of theatre, but the examination of the aftermath of the killing of a young girl is a tough subject.
Set in present-day England, the story involves three characters: Ralph, a serial killer who abducted and murdered a girl named Rhona; the girl’s mother, Nancy, and an American psychiatrist, Agnetha, who has traveled to England to examine Ralph as research for a thesis. The playwright’s conceit is that all three are emotionally imprisoned, unable to move forward in their lives because of grief and trauma. The connection between child abuse and pathological behavior is explored with some insight, although the idea is not really new: this territory has been mined plenty of times before. Forgiveness is offered as the solution, although in a not entirely convincing fashion.
The text may seem a little facile in some key moments, but mostly it is intelligent and sensitive about the burden of emotion it depicts. This particular production unfortunately misses the mark, allowing over-earnestness and poor pacing to keep it from reaching its full potential. It does manage some effective moments within individual performances, and there is no doubt of the effort involved, but when the big cathartic moments arrive, they fail to register as intended.
As with most drama, the characters are all on individual journeys, but the staging establishes a lugubrious tone at the very beginning trapping all three in an emotional stultification that carries over to the audience. It is not until after intermission that the second act allows some different colors to be revealed. It’s not necessarily inappropriate to the plot and the themes being pursued here, but Act One has put us in a grim, unrelentingly monotonous place that welcomes the relief of intermission. The production resolves some of these issues in the last scenes but a questionable meeting between the imprisoned Ralph and Nancy is unconvincing both in Lavery’s text and in the performances; what should be powerful plays instead as perfunctory.
Jordan Aiken makes Agnetha’s buttoned-up academic interesting if somewhat remote, while Calvin Kennedy Cochran delivers a much needed but still curiously restrained volatility with his Ralph. Stephanie Z. Hall sports a well-studied dialect as Nancy (as does Cochran), but the strangely consistent and overly deliberate delivery of the character’s monologues is a problem. While this is most certainly not a comedy, the lack of humor until late in Act Two leads to portentousness that weighs the production down.
Such problems are unfortunate, because Frozen reminds us that work that doesn’t stick the landing is still work; skill and commitment are on display here, not ineptitude. The lighting and sound design feature especially subtle effects, and the fact that the emotion is so controlled could be intended to avoid any semblance of cheap, melodramatic impact. But for all its integrity, the intention is too somber by half, and the reach for subtlety results in low volume dialogue that dropped out entirely at times, and a recording was played equally low, so that it was nearly unintelligible beyond the front rows.
Frozen is the inaugural production for Double H Productions, a new company founded by Hanna Hoopingarner, and it must be said that if the shortcomings here are the result of overreaching, first-time-out-of-the-gate ambition, I would take that any day over timid, overly cautious theatre designed strictly for safety and commerce. I, for one, remain curious to see their next offering.
Profits from the show will be donated to the Family Health Center of Louisville’s Doctors and Lawyers for Kids Program.
May 25-28 (7:30 PM)
Tickets $15 ($14 for Seniors, Students, Military)
Double H Productions
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.