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Actor overcomes flaws of Little Theatre’s ‘Frozen’

Erik Amblad has a dangerous look that he can transform on a dime to that of a child/man who needs cuddling. His ability to get under the skin of a complicated character — without ever appearing to be a well-spoken, educated actor — is maybe the most important reason we buy into “Frozen.”

Bryony Lavery’s 2004 off-Broadway drama is a portrait of a serial killer. It’s fascinating, entertaining, and, because the script doesn’t wrap itself up in iron-clad conclusions, it encourages thought. Amblad is as three-dimensional as the story demands.

We’re thrown into the action mostly through monologues. We follow the lives of the mother of a murder victim (Dannae Youngard), an American academic (Ela Rose) who is preparing a thesis on serial killers, and Ralph (Amblad), an unassuming simple man who has a penchant for little girls.

All three are fighting demons, and their experiences are rich in surprises. It’s hopeless to try to predict where the events of the play are heading. Although the script is compassionate and enormously intelligent, it is not a sentimental celebration of basic goodness.

T.J. Larsen’s direction is skillfully alert to the material. He allows the story to unfold without any unnecessary “clever” touches. And he obviously respects the job of the actor.

There is a problem in that Larsen and the two women — both excellent performers — too often play tension on the same note. We see one too many nervous breakdowns. It might have been helpful for the actors to sometimes fight against the drama rather than wallowing in it. There’s not enough variety in playing style. In real life, people can say the most dramatic things in the most undramatic of ways.

At 2 hours and 40 minutes (with intermission), the production feels at least 20 minutes too heavy. But Youngard is intriguing for her ability to alternate between compassion and coldness. She’s able to suggest the conflicting behavior we’d expect of a woman in her situation.

Larsen’s black box set — a series of small, drab gray platforms and steps squeezed into a small playing area — is unnecessarily gloomy and adds nothing to the psychology of the action. You feel closed in by it, because the actors have so little room to move.

But when Amblad’s onstage, you don’t care about the flaws. His (and Larsen’s) Ralph is both a nightmare figure and a lovable little-boy-lost. He allows the audience to connect to him. And that union makes him the sort of monster you may never be able to forget.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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