Powerful cast, lingering questions


Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 9:16 p.m.

Facts

IF YOU GO: "Frozen"

  • WHAT: Drama about three lives tied together by the murder of a child. Not suitable for children.
  • WHEN: 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: $12-$32 (375-4477)

  • Is it possible for a mother whose 10-year-old daughter was abducted, raped and murdered to forgive her child's killer over time? This is just one of the provocative questions posed by "Frozen," Bryony Lavery's multi-layered play about pedophiles and serial murderers now on stage at the Hippodrome State Theatre.
    Another question: Do serial murderers ever come to feel contrition for their acts? Yet another: Can we, as a society, understand and forgive the perpetrators, if not their acts?
    In addressing these questions and others, "Frozen" gives audiences a long, hard look into the lives of a family dealing with loss, the serial killer who caused their anguish and a criminal psychologist who attempts to still the conflict that ties the two together. Her thesis: "Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act?"
    Fueled by an excellent professional cast - particularly Timothy Altmeyer as the child killer - "Frozen" is a grim, often over-the-top drama that will keep audiences talking long after they leave the theater.
    There are just three main characters in the play: Agnetha, an American forensic psychologist who journeys to England to lecture and research her thesis; Nancy, the murdered child's mother; Ralph, the cocky murderer. There is also a non-speaking role by a prison guard.
    In the first act, which suffers from lengthy monologues by all three, the characters speak directly to the audience, revealing themselves and their personal struggles. With Lauren Caldwell directing, their self-portraits are not just somber but, at times, quite funny.
    Agnetha, the psychologist played by Jessica Peterson, deals with her own neuroses and feelings for a married colleague forbidden to her. Ralph (Altmeyer) details exactly how he lures children off the street and into his van. Nancy, played by Sara Morsey, represents every mother who has lost her child to murder. She lives in hope for a while, confronts despair, gives way to anger and thinks about revenge.
    Ultimately, she confronts the killer of her child with that knotty question of forgiveness. It's a tour de force for Morsey, whose anguished wails of loss fill the house. As a counterpoint, Altmeyer's Ralph is no less compelling as he is forced to look at what he's done.
    Does he feel remorse? Does he comprehend the pain he's caused others?
    Agnetha's thesis - "Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act?" - goes to the heart of Lavery's supposition in "Frozen." According to Agnetha's research, serial killers are physically brain damaged, causing them to act outside the norm. Agnetha tells of examining 23 men on death row and finding that 14 of the 23 had abnormal brains.
    In a painful, emotional outburst in the play's second act, Ralph describes to Nancy how he was abused as a child. Agnetha equivocates in her sympathy for Ralph, her acceptance of his behavior and her disgust. Nancy comes to terms with Ralph's unspeakable crime against her family - but not, perhaps, in the way expected of her.
    This virtual denouement is up for grabs. In the play's second act, all three characters play against each other, and it is far more effective dramatically than the first act.
    Peterson, Morsey and Altmeyer make a letter perfect ensemble. They have a gift for handling Lavery's humorous lines without losing the solemnity of the play's questions.
    Mihai Ciupe's minimalist set is perfect for "Frozen." Marilyn A. Wall and Lorelei Esser collaborated on the play's very appropriate costumes. The sound by Graham Johnson is alternately loud and harsh, slow and funereal. It's altogether jarring, and I recommend dialing it down.
    In the end, the questions posed by Lavery's "Frozen" are, intentionally, left unanswered. As a continued reminder of violent crime's impact on society, the answers are left in the hands and hearts of the audience.

    Art as Action:

  • Family Safe Day - Event runs 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at the Sun Center, behind the Hippodrome along SE 2nd Place; Free. Prizes, food, entertainment and safety tips. The Gainesville Crescent Foundation will make free ID CDs of children.
  • Panel discussion - Safety with Ray Davis of the Crescent Foundation; discussion starts after the Sunday matinee.
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