Review of "FROZEN"
(For The State of Things, NPR Station, WUNC Chapel Hill)
Playmakers Repertory Company, Center for Dramatic Art, UNC-Chapel Hill
January 18 – February 12
Some people think of Carl Jung as a psychologist.
But he thought himself a doctor of the soul. Jung claimed that
“The sight of evil kindles evil [ in the soul ]. There is no getting away from this. The victim is not the only sufferer, for the murderer and the whole human environment of the crime have been injured. A piece of the abysmal darkness of this world has broken in, poisoning the very air we breathe and imparting a stale, nauseating taste of blood to the clear water. It is true that we are innocent, we are even the victims, robbed, cheated, outraged; and yet for all that--or precisely for that very reason--the flame of evil flares up in our moral indignation.”
The new play at Playmakers, in Chapel Hill, raises the problem of evil, and of guilt. But it also raises questions of redemption, and the transcendent power of the human spirit. The title, FROZEN, is literally reflected in the austere, strikingly designed set. The psychiatrist-heroine, played with wrenching honesty by Deborah Hazlett, is descended from Icelandic ancestors. And the anguished mother Nancy, bereft from the loss of her raped and murdered daughter, is left with only a cold, empty vista as far as she can see. The mother is hauntingly played by Julie Fishell, at once the simplest and yet the most complex of the three speaking characters in the play.
James Kennedy is the murderous pedophile Ralph. The play’s finest aspect is the balance with which this character is portrayed. Not Lavery’s script, not the actor, and not the director, Drew Barr, ever give the Ralph character a break. We never sympathize with him. Yet in the end, he is no longer an object of our hatred. He is transformed, becoming capable of accepting, with some glimmer of understanding, the forgiveness that his victim’s mother must offer. But, for her to live, he has to see. She can’t forgive an animal; Ralph has to understand the burden that her forgiveness carries with it, for that act of charity to have any value. And he does, and it does.
At one point, Ralph describes one of his tattoos, visual trophies of his secret paroxysms of revenge against his own psychic agony. “Angels fighting devils, with a leafy green background.” That’s as good a description of Ralph himself as any I can think of. At that point in the play, Ralph is no more human than that leafy green background. Alive, yes; but he is just a canvas for the playing out of monstrous forces he can’t even comprehend, much less control.
The ultimate redemption of evil where we see it, and questions about real moral responsibility where we don’t, left me thinking about this play for hours. I often squirmed in my seat while the play was being performed. After it ended, I wanted to go see it again. It is as challenging a piece of theater as you are likely to encounter. Whether you prefer philosophy or psychology, the questions raised here will give you a lot to think over. The performances are so well done, and the focus of the language so sharp, that you’ll want to see it twice, also.
The payoff is in the last ten minutes. I sat in my seat for several minutes after the show’s end, and I was well on the way home before I started to understand the way that all those loose ends came together. The craftsmanship of the script is revealed in that ending: the threads come together in a tangle, not a neat knot. Gordius would just shake his head and go for a walk.
The problem of evil is eternal; our own complicity … inescapable. I ended up thinking of another show in Durham, from last summer. I think Mick Jagger agreed with Carl Jung, about that kindling of evil. As Mick put it: “I shouted out, Who killed the kennedys? When after all It was you and me…Let me please introduce myself."