Sunday, March 01, 2009

FROZEN: evoking the demons of ice

The family of a missing girl, frozen for years between hope and grief. A disturbingly mesmerizing serial killer, trapped between the icebergs of his abused childhood and his own deadly compulsions. And between them, a criminal psychiatrist, the daughter of an icy land of perpetual night, who tries to explain the unspeakable while she herself is trapped in the frozen depths of grief.

These are the characters who people the chilling world of FROZEN. Along with a guardian in white, who functions as a guide, a jailer, a mortician, a Greek chorus, they plunge us into a world put on hold by the disappearance of a child and the careful machinations of a pedophile patiently awaiting the next opportunity.

Even the entrance into this world is unsettling. Instead of entering directly into the Joyce Doolittle theatre, we are detoured down a flight of stairs into the basement, where we pass through a small room, furnished only by a sofa with a sleeping bag, a lamp, a small television and a stack of video tapes, before being led up a second flight of stairs to the theatre proper. It's a glimpse into the lair of the killer.

The stage itself is white patch in the centre of the room, starkly lit by rows and rows of suspended tracks of lights. The only furnishings are four chairs, on which three of the characters sit frozen in reverie and a table which flanks a wall of utilitarian shelving, stacked with white file boxes, perhaps evidence boxes. The guardian stands ramrod straight in the centre of the stage as we take out seats and then announces, "FROZEN".

The play is dominated by vignettes, the scene changes depicted starkly by the simple movement of a chair or the laying of a prop from one of the evidence boxes onto the table. The first half of the play is acted out mostly through monologues. Nancy, the mother of the murdered girl, recounts the events of the day her 10-year-old daughter disappeared while on an errand with a mix of pathos and snippets of real humour that are recognisable in every family dynamic. Ralph, the serial killer, is mesmerizing as he chillingly explains his motis operandi. His naive intelligence is evident in the careful planning that he lays out, but his sense of entitlement and his barely supressed rage are terrifying. And Agnetha, the psychiatrist on route to London to deliver her treatise that serial killing is a forgivable act has her own spectres to deal with as she breaks down on her way out the door to the airport, forced to put her departure on hold until the madness passes.

In the play's second half, the characters finally come into contact with one another, with disturbing and tragic results. All the actors in FROZEN are quite simply, superb. Nancy is a heartbreaking blend of grieving mother and natural clown and storyteller. Her transformation over the decades is a study of the grief and hope that traps us in the past, even while she takes steps to take control of her life and to move forward. Ralph mesmerizes us with his plotting, his seemingly rational approach to life, while repulsing us with his pathological mind. I believe I actually gasped when he matter of factly stated his wish that killing girls was not illegal. And at times I was truly in fear for his life and thought that we would be calling an ambulance as he sputtered in rage, spit flying, face turning dangerously red.

The science into the nature of serial killers that Agnetha presents at her lecture is fascinating. I know that I have recently read in the press some of the hypotheses about changes that childhood abuse will make to the brain, but I honestly can't comment on the legitimacy of these claims. They do make for a fascinating play, however.
The always splendid Valerie Planche gives Agnetha the feistiness of a woman of science, along with the insecurities of a woman nursing a secret loss.

FROZEN is a chilling play. Sage Theatre does a splendid job of staging this mesmerizing study into the nature of grief, hope, forgiveness, regret, and revenge. It is sure to join the ranks of the most memorable of Sage Theatre's productions.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I love going to the theatre with you.

Karen's Mouth said...

Oooh Barb that sounds brilliant. And that first paragraph gave me goose bumps!!!! That realy does sound like a superb play on a fascinating subject. On a slightly flippant note, I like the Dexter model of murderous impulses myself.

Joe said...

Damn. If that play was half as good as your review, it's riveting!

John Mutford said...

This seems to be the darkest of all the Sage productions you've reviewed. Nice to know they do serious with as much ease as quirky.

Gifted Typist said...

Fascinating. This theatre Sage sounds devine. Must get out to a live production soon. I'm inspired by your review. WAnna come with me? HFX isn't THAT far

Sean Wraight said...

What a terrific review Barb! You are so lucky to have such diverse theatre offerings in your own backyard. The Sage really does sound like a remarkable place.

Amazing when a performance becomes transcedent. Sure wish I lived a little closer to "Cowtown"



OMG that play sounds right up my alley! I really need to get back to theatre going. Great review!
(how many times did you look over your shoulder on your way back to the car?)

Allison said...

I too like going to the theatre with you! :)

If I ever make it back to Calgary I think I must visit the Sage. From your reviews it sounds like such a diverse stage.

bloody awful poetry said...

That first paragraph gave me bloody chills (very appropriate, eh?). I also adore going to the theatre with you! And I may be attending my first ever play in April, so I'm looking forward to that, definitely.

Anonymous said...

I would really enjoy that play. We go to the theatre when we can of course its kind of limited here.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love being your host, Dr M. It's been my pleasure.

It was superb, Kees. I'm not sure if it compares to Dexter, whom I understand to be quite charming and rationalizes his acts. There is no rationale in FROZEN, but it is nonetheless mesmerizing.

Thanks, Bubs. I was riveted. To my chair.

There have been a few other quite serious productions, John, but I concede that this one was certainly one of the darkest. And very well done, indeed.

I can think of nothing finer than to accompany you to the theatre, Gifted. I shall fire up my teleportation machine. And then you must come to Sage with me.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Calgary really does have a wealth of great and diverse theatre, Sean. I could spend all my spare time theatre-going. In fact I am trying to find the time to get to a lunchtime production of a play about a trailer park tupperware addict this week.

FROZEN is playing until March 14, Urban. You really really should go! You will love it, and the price is so reasonable.
I had the brave Resident Offspring with me to protect me in the parking lot.

It is ever changing, always fascinating, Al. Next trip to Calgary, we must arrange to take in a play.

I can't wait to hear about your first play experience, BAP. What will you be seeing? Enjoy.

Live theatre is a great experience, Kelly, and you get to sit down (unlike a lot of live music shows). This becomes more important as I get older.

Anonymous said...

All the theatre around here is boring dated material.

Karen's Mouth said...

Pretty much yes. The idea is that events in his childhood mean that he does have impulses that he can do little about, but that a sense of morality makes him channel them in a more 'appropriate' direction. I'm quite happy to moon over Michael C Hall and not question this too much, but really issues like that are a total minefield in my humble opinion. I'm a frustrated forensic psychologist I reckon! Fascinating. Would have loved to have seen this.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That is such a pity, Leazwell and there is no need for it, because there is such a wealth of thought-provoking and challenging material out there.
You simply need to make a trip up to these parts during theatre season.

I must watch it sometime, Kees, as I have frustrated forensic psychologist tendencies as well.