If only the human mind were so easily charted. Playwright Bryony Lavery uses a form of triangulation to pin down the essential nature of evil in Frozen, now at the Beck Center. By looking at pedophile serial-killer Ralph from three perspectives, the play attempts to plumb the horrifying depths of such unspeakable acts.
Set in England in 1980, the torment revolves around Nancy and her two young daughters, Ingrid and Rhona. We never see the girls, but we listen as Nancy, a middle-class woman possessed of a dry wit, chatters on about them. Soon, however, she begins wondering why Rhona, on her way to her grandmother's house, is late getting there.
Cue perspective number two, in the person of heavily tattooed Ralph, a young man with a treasured stash of kiddie-porn tapes and an obsession with acting out his lethal fantasies. None of the awful details of how Ralph meets Rhona are presented, except for his soft, come-hither "hellos" as he stalks his unseen prey.
The third viewpoint belongs to Agnetha, an American psychologist visiting England as part of her research into serial killing as a forgivable act. Setting aside the intellectual vapidity of such a thesis (terrible behavior caused by a chemical imbalance or brain dysfunction could still be perceived as unforgivable), Agnetha has plenty of personal demons to negotiate.
Moving from intense monologues to dialogue scenes, Lavery constructs a tight little universe in which Nancy and her surviving daughter, Ingrid, eventually move on with their lives. Nancy begins speaking to community groups, while Ingrid, now grown, becomes a new-age devotee. As for Ralph, he's been in prison for years, fencing with Agnetha on her visits, until he's finally confronted by Nancy herself.
In the role of Nancy, Derdriu Ring is hard and strong without being brittle, conveying her deep loss while avoiding maudlin sentimentality. You can feel her aging as the years take her farther from the loss, but never really soften the blow.
Brooding, black-haired Jason Markouc, as Ralph, personifies the banality of evil. Stroking his well-inked skin like a tender lover, he cannot connect with the definition or the meaning of regret. Although some of his reflective moments in Act Two become slightly mannered, Markouc handles his creepy chores with admirable precision.
Director Sarah May explores the script's layers, but the pacing of many scenes becomes so similar that the production loses texture. Toward the end, a couple critical beats are rushed, especially during Nancy and Ralph's meeting. And Liz Conway's Agnetha is either too bland in presenting her scientific findings or overly torqued during her breakdowns.
Still, this is a view of the ghastly things humans do to each other, minus the sensationalism. And for that, it is important theater to confront.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.