Review by Lee Roscoe
A psychological drama, Frozen, at the Harbor Stage, poses some provocative, if facilely handled issues. In a starkly empty set, representing the frozen interior mindscape of the three onstage characters in the play, an American psychiatrist (Stacy Fischer), has an anxiety attack. Nancy, played by D’Arcy Dersham, an upper-class Brit, discusses gardening and complains about her daughter Ingrid. And Ralph (Robert Kropf), in a Cockneyish accent, creepily demands a hello back from a stranger.
Act one continues with no interaction between the characters; all is told, rather than seen and played out in front of us. Monologues reveal that Nancy, who runs Flame, an organization for finding missing children, is herself the mother of a child, Rhona, who went missing a decade ago, when the child was 10. We discover Ralph is a pedophile serial killer, who killed Rhona, and that the doctor of the mind, a researcher on the criminal psyche presenting an ongoing lecture on serial killers’ brains during the play, is investigating Ralph himself as a subject.
In act two there is some absorbing interaction. Between the murderer and the psychiatrist, between the mother and the shrink, and between the mother and the murderer.
How the mother will come to grips with Rhona’s murder is the play’s crux. Her living daughter Ingrid, a New Age spiritualist who sends her mum Tibetan prayer flags, wants her mum to “move on.” Will she?
The shrink maintains that there is a difference between “sin,” or consciously deciding to do evil, and “symptom,” doing a heinous act without intention, because you, like Ralph, have been abused and your brain is literally mis-wired. The playwright, Bryony Lavery, creates more empathy for Ralph than for the mother and the dead child, as theatrical tropes that are now cliches, play out as part of the action and resolution of the drama: Will “forgiveness” resolve the mother’s anger? Will the criminal find “redemption?”
The production is smoothly directed by Jonathan Fielding, a founding member of the Harbor, as are Fischer and Kropf. The actors all must create tour de force roles for unsympathetic characters, and they do this with consummate professionalism. Fischer contrasts her lovely physical presence with her character’s obsessive neuroticism as she rages without explanation against her dead lover and research colleague. Kropf brings a physicality to his psychotic murderer. It’s difficult to play a person with no empathy or affect, but he makes it believable. Dersham plays the bereaved mother with a stiff upper lip, and an occasional peek at her anguish and rage. We get it intellectually, but there is seldom an emotional force to her portrayal.
As for the missing Rhona, the unseen character who drives the play, this reviewer wondered what the dead child would say, screaming with fear and pain, sexually violated and deprived of a chance at life. Would she forgive her killer?
Frozen is performed at Harbor Stage, 15 Kendrick Ave., Wellfleet, Thursdays – Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays 5 p.m. through September 4. For tickets ($25) and information call 508.349.6800 or visit harborstage.org.