SAC's production of Frozen shines
This year, the Summer Company at San Antonio College has pushed back its annual production until November; the current production of Frozen, the gripping three-hander now running at the school's McCreless theatre, proves that it's much, much better late than never. Bryony Lavery's intelligent and wrenching drama, nominated for a 2004 Tony award, receives a top-notch production featuring a trio of the city's most talented actors and is directed with skill and sensitivity by Jim Mammarela. A meditation on culpability and forgiveness in an age of increasing senselessness, Frozen explores the psyches of three metaphorically frozen figures: a deranged serial killer of girls, Ralph (John O'Neill); a bereaved and struggling mother, Nancy (Terri Pena Ross); and the forensic psychologist who mediates between them, Agnetha (Elizabeth Marshall). The subject matter is admittedly grim but, then again, so is Macbeth; what matters is the occasional, fleeting appearance of Truth, an event so rare that its manifestation on stage should be celebrated in print and run up several flags. When, two-thirds through the play, the mother and the child-killer finally meet, the pause between them is so long, so awkward, and yet so true, that its veracity slices through the audience like a knife. Sometimes theatre, like life, is speechless.
8pm Fri-Sat, 2:30pm Sun Through Nov 20 $12 adult
San Antonio College
As Nancy, the devastated mother of an abducted and molested 10-year old, Ross demonstrates that she's among the finest actresses on the local stage. Not simply a caricature of bereavement à la Hallmark, Ross ably communicates the character's acerbic wit as well as her obvious sorrow and anger over her child's murder. After the murderer is imprisoned, Ross transforms herself from a vengeful Fury, incensed that Britain has no death penalty, to a more subtle, interesting variation on the theme: a woman frozen by grief who understands that somewhere, somehow there's a possibility of a thaw.
Those who caught O'Neill's several turns in last year's quick-change comedy Stones in His Pockets will be stunned at his sobering transformation into a tattooed British thug. Though his lower-class accent is sometimes spotty, O'Neill comes across as a completely believable pedophile, with enough cunning to lure several girls to their deaths-but not enough smarts to evade police. Though it's easy to write off Ralph as a monster, things, it appears, are not so simple, and Ralph's tough dramatic monologues serve as a reminder that however loathsome the person, society too plays a role in the creation of the beast.
As the psychologist Agnetha, Marshall is unfortunately saddled with some of the play's least convincing moments, including an introduction at an academic convention that rings absolutely, totally phony (the amount of canned cheering is enough for a UT football game, whereas actual conferences rank in vivacity just above funerals). But Marshall finesses well Agnetha's oddly twofold characterization: a woman who is both a driven scientist and, personally, a mess. Her own frozenness - hinted at throughout the play - comes to a head in a tricky dénouement with Nancy which attempts to juxtapose the (involuntary?) actions of the murderer with sins committed aforethought. It's actually a clunky way to end the play, and one wishes that Lavery had ended the evening with an artful untidiness rather than a binary tableau. It's truer to Life.
Debra Coates' excellent lighting and Rick Malone's evocative sound design show off the actors and their iciness to best advantage. Obviously, this is not a light-hearted evening at the theatre; one will not expect the musical Frozen! any time soon. (Except, perhaps, in Austin.) But theatergoers seeking a moving evening of drama should check out this production before it slips off the stage. Through all of the ice, it radiates a real intelligence. •