Theatre is an entertaining art form. It can make us laugh aloud with an audience full of strangers. It can make us sing long after leaving the theater and even wish we had taken tap lessons. It's immediate and present. When well written, theatre can also make us think.
The Company of Fools is presenting the drama "Frozen" by British playwright Bryony Lavery, which has been called a "big compassionate play about grief, revenge, forgiveness and bearing the unbearable" (The Guardian).
"Frozen" slowly brings together three strangers involved in a child's disappearance: her mother, played by Kelly Kennedy; the kidnapper, Ralph, played by Chad Smith; and an academic studying serial killers, played by Danielle Katz. Hailey Police Lt. Jeff Gunter—in stretch—makes his stage debut as a prison guard.
Katz's character was based in part on a New York psychiatrist, Dorothy Otnow Lewis, whose published work Lavery lifted from freely without attribution. No matter the legal issues that followed, this gives the character peerless veracity.
Directed by Denise Simone, the subject matter admittedly could be gruesome. After all, Smith's character Ralph is an incarcerated serial killer.
"In 25 years I have never done a play where when offered all three of the leads said, 'I don't know if I can do this.'" Simone laughed. "But it's masterfully told. These are three plum roles."
Kennedy, who has returned to the valley from her home in Richmond, Va., for a second time this year, thought, on her second read through, "It's one of the most thought-provoking masterpieces of our time. I better do it and since the director is Denise, I really better do it."
Simone's view was equally decisive. "This is a convergence of what I think is great theater: great writing, a fascinating story that asks questions, and I get to work with fearless actors."
"It connects with everyone in the audience from the first scene on," Kennedy said. "It's not what you'd expect (given the subject matter)."
Katz agreed. "These are complex characters who go through these different journeys. It's so utterly human."
The play covers an arc from the time of the crime to 20 years later. All three of the characters are presented first as solitary characters, without any connection.
Though the characters are immobilized, there is sensitivity to Lavery's examination. It's the frozen aspect of each character and how they begin to melt that brings drama to the story.
"The subject matter is so touchy and taboo, it needs to have a higher element of purpose about it," Smith said. "It's interesting for me, the focus of how people grow up and how stress and abuse can change a person's capacity to connect."
As Simone is quick to point out: "If this play were a movie, it would be violent and gruesome but it's not." Though it could be deemed a thriller, the play merely suggests the horrors that happened two decades earlier. Remarkably, there is even a touch of humor, and plenty of pathos.
"Frozen" was Lavery's first work mounted at the prestigious National Theatre and is the British playwright's most significant stage success to date. She is the author of more than 20 plays including "Bag," "Origin of the Species," "Wicked," "Kitchen Matters," and "Her Aching Heart." She also writes for television, radio and is the author of a biography of Tallulah Bankhead. In 1998, "Frozen" won the Theatre and Management Award (U.K.) for Best Play and the Eileen Anderson Central Television Award for Best Play.
Simone points out that out of the 10 top produced plays in the U.S. this year, six are by women, one of whom is Lavery.
A London hit, "Frozen" opened on Broadway in 2004 and earned a Tony Award nomination.
"I'm very excited that it's in our 10th anniversary season," she said.
The play is contemporary and takes place in England. The actor's British accents are indebted to Boise dialect coach Ann Klautsch. The set was designed by COF member Dennis Rexroad and the lighting is by Jim Langley.
COMPANY OF FOOLS
"Frozen" by Bryony Lavery.
Wednesday, Oct. 19 (Pay What You Can Preview), through Sunday, Oct. 23.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, through Sunday Oct. 30.
Wednesday and Thursday, 7 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 8 p.m.
Sundays, matinee 3 p.m. Fools Unplugged.