Last week, the Pomona Theater Department put on Frozen, a 1998 play by Byrony Lavery, under the direction of Theater Professor Betty Bernhard. Frozen centers around the rape and murder of 10-year-old Rhona and charts the evolution of the three main characters’ personal lives and handling of the aftermath of Rhona’s murder. It follows Rhona’s imprisoned murderer, Ralph, Rhona’s mother, and Agnetha, a psychiatrist researching the difference between crimes of evil and crimes of psychological illness for whom Ralph is a valuable case study.
Neel Sood PO ’15 invests strong energy into the role of Ralph. He adopts a thick Cockney accent and develops specific physical traits, which he then fits to unsettling moments of seduction, violent outbursts of aggression and insecurity, and plenty of places in between. Although at times Sood’s delivery becomes too fast and frenzied to be intelligible, he’s always engaging. Once in prison, he’s guarded by John Verticchio PO ’15, who has no lines, but offers a solid contribution by finding humor in the role.
Angelica Townsend PO ’13 brings real innocence and decency to the character of Rhona’s mother, Nancy. When she plays with the string of her bathrobe after a romantic encounter, you feel her sense of glee and emotional release. Such instances, when an actor makes you feel like you’re watching a real person in a private moment, are what makes seeing plays worthwhile. Townsend adopts a British accent, but unlike Sood, she is not a native Londoner, so it comes a little less naturally.
Roxanne Cook PI ’13 performs Agnetha with seriousness and a sense of humor. She has the unenviable task of delivering a PowerPoint presentation on psychiatry in the middle of the show, but she handles it well. Particularly memorable is Agnetha’s personal phone call, which opens the second act. It’s not flashy, but Cook makes it one of the best-acted moments of the evening.
As a director, the question of this show might be: how do you thread together the thirty fragmented, short scenes that constitute the script and make the story flow? If one gave a pause for every dramatic moment in the text, the production would drag out and last three hours. In this respect, Bernhard does a good job of remaining unsentimental. She chooses a few spots and emphasizes them to good effect.
As for the technical departments, they have to figure out how to complement the show’s mood and themes, as well as portray its considerable jumps in time and location through set, lighting, sound, and costume. Designer Logan Wince makes creative use of the Allen Theater, turning it into a long, narrow stage framed on each side by the audience, and bookended with stark gray walls. The decision to paint the floor to resemble a cracking sheet of ice, while symbolically powerful, falls flat. It’s neither fantastic enough to excite imagination nor realistic enough to inspire dread.
The actual set construction was done by Technical Director Steve Barr and his carpentry shop. Matt Gorka’s lighting design often spotlights characters in their place, underscoring how deeply alone they are. His inclusion of a splotch of deep red light before one of the blackouts lasts only a split second, but it is ominous and powerful.
Jeff Polunas’s sound design is marked by dark stringed instruments that fill most scene transitions, and Sherry Linnell keeps her wardrobe crew busy by giving Townsend’s character roughly eight or nine costumes, each of which is clean and prim.
However, despite these solid contributions from cast and crew, this production suffers from having too many moments that lack specificity. Let’s be clear: Frozen presents a challenging script to perform. As a young actor, you have to personalize being a pedophile/murderer, a mother who’s lost a child in a horrifying fashion, or a psychiatrist dealing with tragedy on personal and professional levels. You need to do this through monologues in which, upon first read, painful memories or emotions seem to surface out of nowhere. You then need to thread these monologues together so that they’re not just isolated scenes, but rather subtle insights into how the characters change over the course of twenty-odd years. It’s difficult work, but it’s doable, and more than that, it’s the job of those who commit themselves to theatre.
In their best moments, Bernhard and her cast prove themselves fully capable of accomplishing this. But there are some moments where the actors aren’t completely sure why they’re doing what they’re doing. For the audience, this makes it hard to relate to the characters on anything more than a general level, which limits the experience of a show that is, at its core, a story about the struggles that three individuals face while coping with deep emotional trauma.