Since DNA testing became legitimate evidence in criminal law, dozens of convicted murderers and rapists have been redeemed and set free. The revelation of so much miscarried justice has fueled the repeal of the death penalty in many states. Still, the United States remains one of the only Western nations to continue the practice. Just two weeks ago, Austrian officials in Arnold Schwarzenegger's birthplace removed his name from a stadium because he refused to block last month's execution of convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams.

In addition to the moral questions surrounding the death penalty, there is another, more difficult, aspect to the debate that concerns the mental condition of the guilty. Is it legitimate or even possible to differentiate between killers who are sane and killers who are mentally, psychologically, and emotionally impaired? And what about minors?

Photo of William Hahn as Ralph and Diana Dresser as Agnetha
William Hahn as Ralph and
Diana Dresser as Agnetha
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In Bryony Lavery's Frozen, now receiving its regional premiere at Curious Theatre Company, Agnetha, a doctor conducting research into the physiological origins of the criminal mind, cites real statistics that show most killers have suffered injuries to the brain. In her examinations of Ralph, a serial child killer and molester, she has us observe his specific physical indications (i.e, motor impairments) of brain injuries along with his corresponding lack of awareness of the heinous nature of his deeds.

From an intellectual point-of-view, it's easy to accept the conclusion that persons such as Ralph are both damaged to a degree that they are unable to control themselves and that they are unable to understand the moral implications of their actions. But the drama of Frozen revolves around how such an intellectual awareness plays out in the real world.

At the onset of the action, Director Anthony Powell introduces us to the three players in a series of remarkably drawn monologues that succinctly engage us for the dramatic interactions that follow.

Photo of Diana Dresser as Agnetha
Diana Dresser as Agnetha
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Agnetha (Diana Dresser) appears with her bags packed, looking the young and smart American professional about to embark on a business trip. But before leaving her apartment she wrestles with unseen emotional forces that bring her to her knees screaming. Dresser arrests us immediately with an astonishingly detailed subtext that fleshes out a post-modern internal dialogue so limited in verbiage that even the likes of Harold Pinter would find it hard not to be jealous.

Photo of Kathryn Gray as Nancy
Kathryn Gray as Nancy
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Nancy (Kathryn Gray) is a middle-aged English mother who interrupts her gardening to talk to us about domestic squabbles between her two daughters, one of whom has been missing for five years. Gray's matter-of-fact delivery is sprinkled with touching details that deftly reveal Nancy's deep sorrow.

Photo of William Hahn as Ralph
William Hahn as Ralph
Photo: Michael Ensminger

Every bit the working-class bloke on the make, Ralph (William Hahn) talks an adolescent girl into his van right before our eyes and revels in his cleverness. Hahn's detailed mannerisms and laser focus turn Ralph's common coarseness into a magnetic monstrosity.

Photo of William Hahn as Ralph and Kathryn Gray as Nancy
William Hahn as Ralph
and Kathryn Gray as Nancy
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Playwright Lavery's mix of experimental data with personal tragedy polarizes us between sympathy and anger, underscoring the difficulty that researchers such as Agnetha face in counteracting deep-seated Old Testament instincts ("An eye for an eye...") with the evolutionary spiritual practices of understanding, compassion, and love. As the action comes to a head, Lavery turns our expectations upside down and in doing so explodes the possibilities for growth.

Curious Theatre Company's production of Bryony Lavery's 2004 Tony-nominated Frozen runs through February 25th. 303-623-0524.

Bob Bows


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