Broken hearts, 'Frozen' lives Dark Hippodrome play sparks new campaign to help kids

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 9:49 p.m.
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Sara Morsey as Nancy, Timothy Altmeyer as Ralph, and Jessica Peterson as Agnetha (all CQ) in Frozen, a play by Byron Lavery, directed by Lauren Caldwell playing at the Hippodrome State Theatre January

Michael C. Weimar/The Gainesville Sun



IF YOU GO WHAT: Drama about three lives tied together by the murder of a child. Not suitable for children.
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Jan. 29. Performances: 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: Hippodrome State Theatre, 25 SE 2nd St.
TICKETS: $8-$32 (375-4477) PREVIEW PERFORMANCE: 8:15 tonight, tickets are $10-$15

Sara Morsey stars as Nancy, Timothy Altmeyer plays Ralph and Jessica Peterson stars as Agnetha in the play "Frozen," opening Friday at the Hippodrome State Theatre.
The happy-merry of the Hippodrome State Theatre's holiday plays has given way to a more chilling January.
The crackling Christmas trees of Tuna, Texas, and cozy karma of Dickens have been replaced by a much starker set: a lone child's swing behind a jail cell made from barbed wire. It's lonely and suffocating, devoid of color except for the arctic hues.
In the play's opening minutes, "Frozen" will introduce you to a mother named Nancy. Soon thereafter, her youngest child, Rhona, will go missing. And, all too soon, you will meet the playful bloke who lured Rhona into his van and killed her.
Bryony Lavery's psychological drama - opening Friday - becomes a case study of violent criminals, victims and the struggle between revenge and forgiveness. It provides an uncomfortable window into the mind of a child killer while weaving the lives of three scarred people together in a story that intends to pose more questions than conclusions.
"Sometimes a story comes along that has the potential to seep its way into the heart of a community. I think 'Frozen' is that kind of story," noted director Lauren Caldwell.
"Frozen," therefore, also launches the Hippodrome's Art as Action program, which seeks to push the issues portrayed on stage out into the public for broader discussion and awareness. "Frozen" speaks to the ripple effects that violent crime has on society, posing the questions why, how and what can be done?
Art as Action will address some of those questions throughout the show's run, using the show as a springboard for a community campaign designed to keep children safe from predators. The Hippodrome has teamed up with about a dozen community partners, from victims' advocates to educators to law enforcement. These partners have sat in on rehearsals, offered feedback and will offer forums and child-safety events throughout the play's run.
As for the art behind the action, "Frozen" debuted at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1998, winning London's Barclay Award for Best New Play and eventually making its way to Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre in 2004. It closed less than four months later but still claimed one Tony Award out of its four nominations (Brian O'Byrne, who played child serial killer Ralph, won). It also landed on Time magazine's "must-see" list.
In Gainesville, professional actor Timothy Altmeyer plays Ralph, whose unapologetic obsession with children rips apart a London family and becomes the center of study for a troubled American academic (played by Jessica Peterson). Her thesis explores the brain function of serial killers, ultimately questioning whether their acts were crimes of evil or crimes of illness.
More than 20 years pass in the play, as Nancy (played by Sara Morsey) goes from missing-child advocate to pedophile watchdog to an emotionally frozen woman determined to watch her daughter's killer die.
Make no mistake, "Frozen" is disturbing. It is laced with raw, sexually explicit language. But it is a powerful, important and relevant work, said Sadie Darnell, the community relations coordinator with the Gainesville Police Department.
Fact is, when Caldwell called her about being a community partner, Darnell initially said, "Absolutely not," noting she would not support a project that portrays violence as entertainment. But Caldwell urged her to read the script, and Darnell changed her mind. "Frozen" is not entertainment, Darnell now contends, but rather an exploration of the human condition with some very real lessons.
"As painful as it is, this play is very well done, as accurate as I've seen in portraying people going through all this - anger, pain and grief. It's just superbly done," said Darnell, who served as GPD's spokeswoman during the Gainesville student murders 15 years ago.
Darnell, who has seen rehearsals, called the Hippodrome "gutsy and bold" for presenting a play many people may find hard to watch or even objectionable. And while Darnell takes issue with the play's suggestion that brain damage is a factor among serial killers, she applauds the play overall as a brutally honest educational tool.
Parents, she said, need to see how engaging Ralph the killer is when he approaches the unseen children in the play. Indeed, Altmeyer plays Ralph as a scamp, playfully telling the children it's impolite not to respond to his sing-song "Hellos."
Predators tend to be inviting and - like Ralph - believe whole-heartedly in what they are doing. "His world makes complete sense to him" Alt-meyer said of his character. "I think the story will work best if I have a sense of righteousness."
For those who do not have children, Darnell said "Frozen" still offers a chilling lesson: This could happen anytime, anywhere.
Dave Schlenker can be reached at 374-5045 or

Art as Action schedule:

Panel discussions Jan. 8 - The Artistic Process with Hippodrome dramaturg Tamerin Dygert and psychologist Beth-Anne Blue of UF
Jan. 15 - Safety with Ray Davis of the Crescent Foundation
Jan. 22 - Legal Interpretations with attorney Charles Pino and Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeanne Singer
Jan. 29 - Testimonials, coordinated by Rita Lawrence of the Alachua County Victims Services and Gretchen Howard of the State Attorney's Office

Family Safe Day

10 a.m.-2 p.m. Jan. 14; Sun Center, behind the Hippodrome along SE 2nd Place; Free
This event will offer prizes, food, entertainment and safety tips; the Gainesville Crescent Foundation will make free ID CDs of children.

Hipp's Art As Action Community Partners:

Alachua County Crisis Center

Alachua County Victims Services

Child Advocacy Center Gainesville

Crescent Foundation

Gainesville Police Department

Guardian Ad Litem

Haven Hospice

Parents of Murdered Children

Peaceful Paths

State Attorney's Office

University of Florida

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