Can serial killers ever be forgiven?
That is the core question asked by the cast of “Frozen,” a play opening in Astoria this week.
The work by British dramatist Bryony Lavery is fictitious but based, in part, on a study of a notorious British serial killer who was convicted in 1990 of the deaths of four girls.
The production, which is a staged reading rather than a fully produced play, will be performed at KALA (1017 Marine Drive) in downtown Astoria. It opens Friday, Jan. 19, and will be performed Saturday, Jan. 20, Thursday, Jan. 25, and Friday, Jan. 26. The Jan. 25 performance will be followed by an actors’ “talk-back” session. All readings take place at 7:30 p.m.
The director, Susi Brown, said this is an adults-only play with disturbing content. It is unrelated to the 2013 animated Disney children’s movie of the same title.
Daric Moore depicts the serial killer, Toni Ihander plays the mother of one of his victims, and Rhonda Alderman portrays an American forensic psychiatrist who travels to Great Britain to interview the killer while researching a paper titled “Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act.”
Brown chose to stage the play after several actors visited her Astoria studio last summer to read from a pile of scripts. The trio read “Frozen” without any preparation. “The three in the show brought it to life,” she said. “They lifted those words right off the page.”
The director said she likes working on theater pieces with substance. She said “Frozen” will challenge audiences to ponder the core issues of crime and punishment, and the nature of sin.
“It begs the question about serial killers: Can we forgive them or not? It’s pursued very interestingly. It is a beautiful piece of art created out of horrific circumstances,” she said.
Good and evil
The title refers to the manner in which each of the characters appears “frozen.” The play begins with three monologues to establish the characters before they interact. The killer’s apparent lack of humanity and the mother’s paralyzing grief are evident. But the psychiatrist, the third part of the triangle, adds a nuanced complexity.
Brown said Alderman’s curiosity as an actress has contributed greatly to the discovery process during rehearsals. The expert does not realize she, too, is ‘frozen,’ Alderman said. “While she is absorbed in the maladies of other people’s psyches, she’s not attending to hers. She takes care of other people, but she neglects herself.”
Moore spent three years living in Scotland and enjoys portraying characters with accents. He said stressing the despicable nature of his character at the beginning will add weight to what happens later.
“His development is ‘frozen’ and he is no longer able to develop as a normal compassionate human being with a conscience,” Moore said. “But I just don’t want him to be just a nasty guy. The author has written it in layers.”
Brown is pleased at the way Ihander’s portrayal of her character, the mother, avoids “over-the-top” grieving. “She goes through a long time as an adult left numb and not really alive, just going through the motions of life,” Ihander said. “In time, she changes her outlook on people who do these horrific kind of things.”
Brown also commended Dinah Urell, KALA proprietor, for her support and Bill Ham — North Coast actor, KMUN radio presenter and Coast Weekend writer — who is providing the sound effects.
The director hopes many will stay for the Jan. 25 discussion after the performance with the actors to share their reactions.
“This is a proactive piece to provoke thought and discussion. It’s got meat,” Brown said. “It’s not just about a person being an evil person. We are looking at the many sides of all these characters.”
About the play:
The role of “Ralph,” the serial killer in Bryony Lavery’s play, “Frozen,” was based, in part, on a book about the eight-year manhunt for Robert Black, a Scotsman convicted in 1990 of the murder of four girls. It was the first major British police investigation to use a computer system whose acronym spells “Holmes.” Black, who died in prison in 2016, was suspected in at last four other deaths. British detectives were aided by American criminal profiling expertise.
When “Frozen” was staged on Broadway in 2004, Brian F. O’Byrne earned the Tony Award for best actor.