Frozen — that is what can happen to you when a chilling event indelibly alters your life. The disappearance of a child certainly makes a gripping newspaper headline, but what happens long after the headline has faded? What does it mean to go on? Can you really become unfrozen? When ten-year-old Rhona disappears en route to her grandmother’s house, her loved ones are paralyzed by these questions. Byrony Lavery’s Tony Award-nominated play chronicles the aftermath of Rhona’s murder in three voices: Rhona’s mother, Nancy, Rhona’s killer, Ralph and the American graduate student, Agnetha.
The Reader’s Theater of Ithaca launches its second season with performance readings of Frozen. First performed in 1998, Frozen has been widely praised by critics for its intelligent and compassionate take on emotional paralysis and forgiveness. The play’s central struggle is encapsulated by Agentha’s research thesis entitled, “Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act?” The characters provide varying answers to this question. To go on with their lives, they compartmentalize their difficult feelings. Agnetha treats mourning like an individual physical activity, much like a gym session. Nancy lives through her grief slowly, feeling Rhona’s gaping absence years after the murder. Ralph tries to rationalize his actions by recalling them in a detached, matter-of-fact manner. Gradually, each character becomes frozen — set in a fixed, systematic way of thinking that is both a lifeline and a stumbling block.
These solutions generate more questions: Why does each character mourn? Is there a sustainable way of mourning? How does one forgive when one cannot forget? The swelling wave of crime dramas might offer highly choreographed snapshots of these struggles, but this play is more Rabbit Hole than CSI. Critics have remarked that the play is startling for its ordinarines and avoidance of clichés.
Local veterans lead the Ithaca production: Judith Andrew, most recently seen in the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s 2011 summer productions, plays Agnetha. Director Anne Marie Cummings doubles as Nancy and Ruby Max Fury takes on the role of Ralph. The Reader’s Theater offers a new take on the play, placing the spotlight on the written word. Actors interact in a black box setting with no props or set, just the occasional music stand. Undoubtedly, the extensive use of monologues in the play makes it especially suitable for a performance reading.
A key strength of the play is its emotional intensity and honesty. Lavery tried very hard to make her characters real. In fact, she drew so heavily on accounts of actual disappearances that she had to fend off allegations of plagiarism. If you’ve watched re-runs of old Discovery Channel crime documentaries, you might be particularly alarmed at some references. Lavery shaped the character of Nancy based on Marian Partington’s account of her sister’s ordeal at the hands of British serial killers Fred and Rosemary West.
The Ithaca production is supported by Mayor Carolyn Peterson, Chief Edward Vallely, Deputy Chief John Barber and Deputy Chief Pete Tyler of the Ithaca Police Department (IPD) and Citizens Concerned for Children, Inc. Mayor Peterson will lead a talk-back session with the cast following the September 16th performance, while an IPD police officer will relate facts linked to the play’s themes from Amber Alert and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Performance readings of Frozen will be held at The Space, 700 West Buffalo Street. The play will run at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16 Saturday Sept. 17 and at 6.30 p.m. on Sept. 18 Sunday.
Original Author: Daveen Koh