In “Frozen” at ArtsWest, Seattle actor Peter Crook reprises his role as a British serial killer, along with excellent performances by Amy Thone and Jonelle Jordan.
According to Dante’s “Inferno,” the lowest pit of hell isn’t made of fire — it’s made of ice.
Unlike the other sinners in the “Inferno,” the worst of the worst are trapped in a frozen lake, unable to speak, contorted in painful postures for all of eternity where Satan weeps and chews endlessly with three mouths on the bodies of Judas, Brutus and Cassius: three of the greatest traitors in the European canon.
A weeping Satan in ice is a fitting image to pair with “Frozen,” the 1998 play by Bryony Lavery about the abduction of a 10-year-old girl in England.
Through May 14, ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave. S.W.; Seattle $17-$37.50 (206-938-0339 or artswest.org).
“Frozen” is told with three voices: the mother (Amy Thone) of the abducted girl, the serial killer (Peter Crook) who lured the girl into his car, and the psychologist (Jonelle Jordan) studying the killer for a research project on how horrific crimes might simply be a symptom of brain damage, rather than evidence of evil.
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The play is intense, but the staging (by director Matthew Wright and lead designer Cristopher Mumaw) significantly keys up the tension. The audience is seated, tennis-court style, in three rows opposite each other to watch the action — and each other. The stage is broken into three high platforms so that, in its most harrowing moments (when the killer is luring a girl into his van or when the mother is having a breakdown), we are, like Dante, mere feet away from powerful characters exhorting powerful, but sometimes unexpected emotions.
“Frozen” is made of deft interruptions and reversals. The grieving mother has a bitter sense of humor, using her daughter’s disappearance as an excuse to start smoking again (“cast-iron excuse,” Thone tosses away in one of her character’s many gallows-humor jokes). The killer, who eventually gets caught, is a strangely empathetic monster. And the psychologist is possibly more emotionally damaged than either of them. Her intellectual mission is to establish that “the difference between a crime of evil and a crime of illness is the difference between a sin and a symptom.”
The killer’s crimes, she keeps saying, are signs of illness — but we learn that, according to her own premise, she has committed sins.
The three actors are uniformly excellent. Crook played the role of the killer in a 2005 production of “Frozen” at the now-defunct Empty Space Theatre and is even more harrowing now in his character’s childlike inability to understand why his self-designed tattoos are less important than the children he kidnaps and murders. “You know, it’s just one of those days you’re just going to do it,” he says in his first scene, his eyes glinting icily before he describes plaintively introducing himself to a girl he’s going to kill. “Least you can do is make a response,” he pleads with her (and us). “It’s bad manners if you don’t.”
Thone, as the grieving mother, refuses to be maudlin — if the killer’s blood is ice water under a crust of blood, hers is simmering lava under a crust of ice. Meanwhile, Jordan plays the psychologist as a kind of war correspondent whose soul has been irreparably scoured by all the violent territory she’s had to chart. “Don’t you cease to be an explorer?” she asks herself, “and start living there?”
“Frozen” is three studies in anguish. This production is heroic in its refusal to turn anyone’s pain — the mother’s, the killer’s, the psychologist’s — into cliches.
But don’t listen to me. Just go.