One of the larger mistakes you could make at the theater is to take a youngster to this Frozen at the Anacostia Playhouse.
The grim Bryony Lavery play is not only emphatically not the popular Disney musical that’s a hit with children, it’s a work in which one of its three characters is a pedophile who murderously lures kids to his van.
Perversely, “Let It Go,” title of the hit song in the animated version, emerges as an eventual theme of the play as well.
Lavery’s work, first staged in London in 2002, got a Tony nomination when it made it to Broadway in 2004, primarily for its consideration of neurological causes for abhorrent behavior. In the Anacostia production directed by Delia Taylor, that comes through in the interaction between a psychologist played by Jo Sullivan and a menacing child murderer played almost too convincingly by Frank Bliss.
As she discovers layers of neglect and abuse, a head injury to him and physical impairment that match his mental lapses, if she doesn’t create sympathy for the predator, she begins to show some explanation for his action.
This is not much comfort to the families of his victims, who in the case of the mother played by Adele Robey, grieve and brood and vow vengeance until, after time, they find their own peace by granting forgiveness to the murderer, even if the latter is too damaged to even have it register.
Some interesting ideas…
This does not make for easy viewing, of course, and it’s made a little more difficult by rough edges in the production, staged in the theater’s black box space in the center of the space, with seats on either side as if the audience were spectators in an awful sporting event.
And as tough as it is to watch Bliss’ pedophile luring potential victims, or proudly enumerating titles of his child porn, it’s even worse at its start when we see the doctor on a plane writing an email about bombing someone out of the sky. Oh great, one thinks with a deflating sensation, two hateful characters out of three to spend 90 minutes with.
But no, she’s merely having an in-air panic attack, venting, thankfully, about a failed affair that has really nothing to do with what’s at hand.
As the doctor from Iceland (hence a part of the Frozen title), Sullivan is a standout in the cast as she attacks her work trying to find what makes monsters tick.
At least she doesn’t have to wrestle with English accents, which both Robey and Bliss have to do. In both cases, they tend to generally ignore the accents, choosing to speak more crisply instead. But Lavery’s play is still written in British idiom, so some of the slang they use and how they say it (Bliss saying “yes, yes, yes” over and over) often just sound odd.
Past productions have hinged on the mother and the murderer (Bryan F. O’Byrne won a Tony for his work in the role on Broadway), but here they are the two roles that struggle the most. Robey is famously the founder of the playhouse, who can presumably take any role she wants, but she has more of the distance and age of a grandmother type than mother of a missing 10-year-old. Her monologues frequently seem disembodied in a condition not always tied to her trauma.
Technical aspects of the play are odd as well, particularly a large overhead video screen of Bliss’s killer while under observation. But the screen projection by Robbie Hayes — frequently off-center, out of focus and out of synch, is more distracting than illuminating.
But hats off to costume designer Michelle Elwyn (I assume) for having to paint up the half-dozen tattoos on the murderer’s body.
There are some interesting ideas at the center of Frozen, but with the weather being what’s it’s been this month in D.C., I’d say things have been quite frozen enough.
Advisory: Relentless vulgar language, criminally repellant situations.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Frozen runs through March 1, 2015 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE, Washington, D.C. Tickets are available online.