Rockville Little Theatre FrozenBy Bob Ashby • Apr 3rd, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Rockville Little Theatre
Randolph Road Theatre, Silver Spring, MD
Through April 15th
2:20 with one intermission
Reviewed March 31st, 2012
More than anything else, come and see the Rockville Little Theater (RLT) production of Byrony Lavery’s Frozen for Phil Hosford’s performance as Ralph, a serial killer of children. Every gesture, muscle movement, accent, line reading, silence, and facial expression combine to create an utterly credible portrait of a man damaged and damaging beyond redemption. Hosford disappears into Ralph in a way that brought to my mind Robert Duvall’s disappearance into Mac Sledge in his 1983 Oscar-winning performance in Tender Mercies.
What makes Ralph so terrifying is his very ordinariness. He is no colorful Hannibal Lecter sort of serial killer, just a very workmanlike, methodical, meticulous, tradesman of a murderer who kills his victims with little overt emotion. Having himself been the victim of physical and perhaps sexual abuse as a child, he takes comfort from little girls at the expense of their lives. One of the unexplained pieces of Ralph’s psychology is how cruel abuse from his father leads to a lifelong, profound hatred of women.
Attempts at psychological explanations abound in Lavery’s script, personified in the character of Agnetha, an Icelandic/American psychiatrist visiting London in connection with an academic paper on serial killers. As played by Erin A. Finucane, Agentha is a neurotic, emotionally uninvolved mess of a shrink, given to spouting shallow deterministic explanations of deviant behavior (she even measures the circumference of Ralph’s skull at one point — and here I thought that phrenology had not survived the end of the Victorian era) and unable to get over the death of a longtime friend and colleague. The writing of this character is the weakest of the three, and Finucane’s apparent choice to play the role with a rather flat affect — except when she is melting down — makes it difficult for her to rise above the material. Whether scripted or chosen by the actor, her parting peck on the Ralph’s cheek as she leaves her last visit with him seemed a false note.
Agentha connects Ralph with the third character in the play, Nancy, the mother of one of Ralph’s victims. As Nancy, Erica Smith describes the most complete character arc in the play, from denial of the probable death of her long-missing child to despair and anger when the daughter’s death is confirmed to a willingness to speak words of forgiveness for Ralph’s acts to beginning to seize the possibility for a renewed life of her own. Smith handles the transitions gracefully and believably, and by the end of the play is in a strong enough place to give sound, Dear Abby-like advice to Agentha. An interesting question concerning Nancy is whether she truly has forgiven Ralph or just come to believe that she must express forgiveness in order to move on with her life. The script, and Smith’s choices in the role, leave the question unanswered.
The play has an unusual structure. Act 1 consists almost entirely of monologues by the three main characters, while Act 2 provides more two-person scenes. The production’s pace is measured and unhurried, with good use of silences in many of the monologues and scenes.
An important underlying concept in the play, mentioned briefly in the script, is “restorative justice.” As defined by one web site on the subject, restorative justice is “a way of seeing crime as more than breaking the law — it also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. So a just response must address those harms as well. If they are willing, the best way to do this is for the parties themselves to meet to discuss the harms and how to about bring resolution.” The hope is for a degree of mutual healing.
The climatic scene of Frozen is an informal, and not completely successful, attempt at restorative justice in which Nancy visits Ralph in prison, expressing her forgiveness and trying to establish human contact with him, most poignantly by showing him photographs of the daughter he murdered. As a result, he does begin to see, perhaps for the first time, the hurt he has caused, and he later makes an attempt to express sorrow. Some wounds, however, cannot be healed.
The production makes good use of the former Roundhouse Theater space in Rockville, with playing areas representing Nancy’s house, Ralph’s prison cell and visiting room, and a lectern from which Agentha delivers her thesis. The lighting transitions between the playing areas are generally smooth, with effective use of reddish light on Agentha when she is speaking an aside. The sound design features very apt music by local artist Valerie Vigoda, the snippets of which might usefully have continued a bit longer to underscore the mood of some scenes. There were some minor glitches in cuing for the music: other sound cues, including a very nice montage of news headlines signifying the passage of time, were handled capably.
The title and theme of Frozen concern how people succeed or fail at coming unstuck from ingrained patterns of thinking and feeling resulting from traumatic circumstances in their lives. RLT’s production provides rich opportunities for thinking and talking about justice, responsibility, remorse and forgiveness, and recovering from the most terrible blows life has to offer.
Photos by Dean Evangelista
- Agnetha Gottmundsdottir: Erin A. Finucane
- Nancy Shirley: Erica Smith
- Ralph Wantage: Phil Hosford
- Guard: Patrick Opitz
- Voice of David Nabkus: Reed Sandridge
- Director: Kevin O’Connell
- Producer: Dominique Marro
- Assistant Director: Caroline Duffy
- Stage Manager: Jill Goodrich
- Lighting Design: Jacinda Shelly
- Costumer: Julia Morrissey
- Props & Set Dressing: Mandy Keating
- Special Effects: Jeff Wilhelm
- Set Design: Kevin O’Connell, Caroline
- Duffy and Eric Henry
- Set Construction: Caroline Duffy, Eric Henry, Jill
- Goodrich, and Kevin O’Connell
- Sound Design: Kevin O’Connell
- Sound Execution: Tom Roff
- House Manager: Mandy Keating
- Program: Dominique Marro, David Levin
Disclaimer: Rockville Little Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. RLT also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio.net web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7848.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.