Interesting actors, subject matter can’t melt the knotty plot of “‘Frozen’
One of the inescapable ironies in the current production of “Frozen,” now in the downstairs space at Theatre Three, is the disconnect between the title of the play and the temperature in the auditorium. The low ceiling and bright lights quickly raise the mercury so much that the audience could very well think the theater meant to put on “110 in the Shade” and lost its way.
This is not a minor quibble. At last weekend’s preview performance, while frost formed on car windshields outside, inside bodies sweltered. It’s extremely difficult to get in the mood for what should be chilling portrait of a cold-blooded killer when you feel like you’re going through male menopause.
That might not be a problem if “Frozen” weren’t so often a tediously disorganized jumble. The playwright, Bryony Lavery, faced accusations of plagiarism after the show opened on Broadway. One can only hope the structure of the source material wasn’t as convoluted.
The action, set on a sparse set, takes place over 20 years in Britain. The six-year-old daughter of Helen (Elizabeth Rothan) disappears one day while walking to her grandmother’s house. For five years, Helen burns a candle, hoping that the girl is alive and well even if lost.
The audience knows better. Ralph (Steven Pounders) seems like a charming nobody. But he’s really a child-molesting murderer, completely without remorse for his conduct.
“I only regret what I did is a crime,” he says a line that might send chilblains down your spine if you weren’t sweating so much.
The problem with the play is certainly not in the acting. Pounders, who most recently made an effectively guilt-ridden Macbeth, shows equal depth as a psychologically arrested pedophile. Rothan, a master of accents, delivers her monologues with heartbreaking power.
If the play concentrated on their emotional pas de deux, separated by years and miles, it might have worked.
But the story galumphs along, injecting details about the personal life of Ralph’s psychiatrist (Jennifer Pasion) that detract from the central theme. The doctor’s theories about Ralph’s illness are interesting; her infidelity with a colleague is not.
In several ways, “Frozen” resembles “Agnes of God,” another play about a doctor and a sweetly insane person who kills a child. But where “Agnes” used the crime as a jumping-off point for exploring the therapist’s feelings and those of the other characters, here the back-story feels extraneous and tacked on to pad otherwise interesting subject matter.
There’s a good one-act play located within the text of “Frozen,” but it’s deeply embedded at the center of a block of ice, constrained from reaching the audience. And even the theater’s temperature can’t thaw it loose.
Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. Through Nov. 5. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $25-$30. 214-871-3300.
“‘THRILL ME’ BACK ON TRACK
Earlier this year, the Uptown Players decided to expand their usual four-show season with a “bonus” production a limited run of the chamber musical “Thrill Me: The Story of Leopold and Loeb.” But it seemed as if it would never happen.
First, the Trinity River Arts Center experienced an electrical fire the Sunday week before opening. Not to worry: They would move it across the complex to KD Studios Theater.
But then no it turned out that, for technical reasons, the production couldn’t be moved there. Putting on the show later in the summer also proved undoable.
While it may have taken longer than expected, “Thrill Me” will finally open Nov. 3 where it was originally intended. Here’s hoping this time the production is luckier than poor Bobby Franks, the innocent victim of the depraved killers.
Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 Stemmons Frwy. Nov. 3-13. Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. $22-$25. 214-219-2718.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 27, 2006.