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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 9, 2006

Powerful acting illuminates monstrous subject in 'Frozen'

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser


2 p.m. Sunday (final performance)

Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter



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British playwright Bryony Lavery's "Frozen" is remarkably playable in the reader's theater format at Army Community Theatre. The 1998 work is both a thesis and a problem play, centering on the possibility of forgiveness for a serial child killer.

It's also a wonderful character study and an opportunity for actors to get deep below the surface of their roles. Adapted and directed by Vanita Rae Smith, the current reading is disturbing and powerful.

Thankfully, it is neither choked with psychobabble nor awash in political correctness. All three roles are tough, uncompromising and never sentimental.

There is Nancy (Jo Pruden), the mother of a 10-year-old girl who is kidnapped, raped and murdered. There is Ralph (Richard MacPherson), the blue-collar murderer who has dispatched seven victims over 21 years. And there is Aretha (Anne Marie MacPherson), an American psychologist in England to lecture and do research.

The dual-meaning title refers to Ralph's brain condition, which allows brutality without remorse, and to Nancy's overriding anger and hatred against her daugh-ter's murderer.

Nearly the first third of the script is delivered in short monologues in which the characters directly address the audience. The remainder of the play is mostly two-character scenes that carry the action over more than 20 years.

The central question is clearly stated. Are such acts crimes of evil, and consequently a sinful choice? Or are they crimes of illness, symptoms of an uncontrollable mental state?

The actors approach that issue with deeply detailed performances.

Pruden is excellent as the afflicted mother, holding fast to her hatred, keeping her daughter alive by "growing her up," and inwardly unwilling to accept that the murderer has "buried her away."

Richard MacPherson is dead-on as the amoral murderer, expressing regret only that "killing little girls isn't legal," with innocent matter-of-factness.

Anne Marie MacPherson delivers an edgy performance as the professionally assured psychologist with a personal secret that isn't revealed until the play's closing moments.

But it is Pruden's character Nancy who thaws out of her frozen state, demonstrating the possibility of hope after tragedy and summing up the playwright's message in two short lines that demystify anyone's lingering moral dilemma.

Despite its subject matter, "Frozen" is not a depressing play, but it will exercise your thinking on a difficult subject.