With Frozen, Artists Repertory Theatre (ART) has gotten its hands on a great play. British playwright Bryony Lavery tells the story of a child serial killer, Ralph (Keith Scales); an American psychologist, Agnetha (Karen Trumbo); and the mother of one of Ralph's victims who believes she has the strength to forgive him, Nancy (Linda Williams Janke). Lavery's writing is smart and brave—almost the entire first act is composed of monologues, a precarious dramatic device handled with exquisite grace.
But having acquired the rights to this text, director Allen Nause and Co. must have thought their job was done. Janke's English accent is neglected to the point of ruining her otherwise strong work as a tightly wound mother trying to piece her life back together in the wake of a terrible loss. As Agnetha, Trumbo stares into the distance with tremulous emotion, her eyes welling with tears at every opportunity. Agnetha's success as a psychologist has stemmed from her hardnosed ability to view homicidal maniacs as physical specimens and not evil souls. In Trumbo's hands she's a jibbering, weepy basket case.
Only Scales hits the mark as Ralph. His cockney accent isn't distractingly awful, for one, but also, he knows what Ralph is: a man who has killed children not because he is sinister, but because he lacks the tools needed to understand what he's done. His performance is so understated some will miss it in the wake of Trumbo's cross-table dervish. It's also pitch perfect.
I wonder what runs through Nause's (Calso ART's Artistic Director) mind as he watches people line up outside his theater, ready to see this show. He must know Janke's accent is unbefitting of a middle school drama class. He must realize that Trumbo is trying to win an Oscar instead of communicating a character with strong, carefully realized motivations behind her actions. Does it feel good to charge $40 for tickets to a production that has neglected basic details of theatrical craft, yet bills itself as the work of a bona fide professional company? Or perhaps I should ask you: Does it feel good to pay it?