Can a Victim’s Mother’s Tears Thaw a Killer’s Heart of Ice in “Frozen” at Raleigh Ensemble Players?

The "Frozen" cast includes (from left) Whitney Griffin, Staci Sabarsky, and Eric Morales
The "Frozen" cast includes (from left) Whitney Griffin, Staci Sabarsky, and Eric Morales

The "Frozen" cast includes (from left) Whitney Griffin, Staci Sabarsky, and Eric Morales
The "Frozen" cast includes (from left) Whitney Griffin, Staci Sabarsky, and Eric Morales

Can a victim’s mother’s tears thaw a killer’s heart of ice? British playwright Bryony Lavery’s provocative 1998 play, Frozen, asks that very question. Nancy (portrayed by Staci Sabarsky in Raleigh Ensemble Players’ claustrophobic little bare-walled black-box theater) is the anguished British mother of a missing child, 10-year-old Rhona, whom she fears has fallen victim to Ralph (Eric Morales), a now-imprisoned and seemingly remorseless pedophile and serial killer who preyed on preteens in Nancy’s neighborhood.

In-between Nancy and Ralph, whom she desperately wants to confront and interrogate about Rhona, face to face, is an American academic, Agnetha (Whitney Griffin), who is interviewing serial killers for her dissertation, provocatively entitled “Serial Killing — A Forgivable Act?”

Agnetha is suspicious of Nancy’s motives, and worried that a confrontation would trigger an emotional upheaval in Ralph, who is verbally abusive and potentially violent toward women, especially women who confront him about his nasty little hobbies of viewing child porn on the VCR and roaming around in his van looking for victims for his sick fantasies.

Frozen is strong stuff and, perhaps, too intense to be performed in a space small enough for the audience to reach out and touch the actors as they traverse the stage. Director Sean A. Brosnahan helps his three-member cast find the raw emotions that drive each of these three complicated characters, but those emotions are sometimes too raw. Indeed, Eric Morales’s angry outbursts when either Agnetha or Nancy presses him for information give the ringside viewers emotional whiplash.

Whitney Griffin pours her heart into Agnetha, the guilt-ridden researcher distracted at crucial moments by how horrible she feels about having had a brief affair with an older colleague and mentor who died unexpectedly, leaving Agnetha to field call after call from his grieving widow, who’s clueless about her husband’s infidelity.

Eric Morales is positively creepy as Ralph, the twitchy abused child-turned-child abuser. Ralph has snakes in his boots and a lethal temper that erupts periodically onstage and keeps REP patrons cringing. Agnetha wants to minimize Ralph’s upset, so that she can pick brain to find out what makes this unrepentant and utterly abhorrent child rapist and murder tick, but Nancy wants the closure of finding out — from Ralph — why he picked Rhona and what the terrified child’s last moments were like.

In perhaps the performance of her career, Staci Sabarsky helps Nancy bare her soul — about the child that was ripped from her bosom, the marriage that could not survive that unspeakable death in the family, and the total eclipse of her heart that followed.

Whitney Griffin seems a bit uncomfortable playing the cards that dramatist Bryony Lavery deals to Agnetha, and Eric Morales goes a bit over the top while portraying Ralph as a ticking time bomb. But Sabarsky is a revelation as Rhona’s thunderstruck mother, who is frozen in grief. Nancy desperately wants to free herself from her self-imposed prison, and hopes that while facing the man who destroyed her family and ruined her life, she can find it in her heart to forgive him.

SECOND OPINION: March 21st Dirham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars); and March 14th Durham, NC Independent Weekly mini-preview by Byron Woods: (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the March 15th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click

Raleigh Ensemble Players presents FROZEN at 8 p.m. March 22-24, 7 p.m. March 25, and 8 p.m. March 29-31 at 213 Fayetteville St., Suite 202, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601. TICKETS: $15, except March 22nd pay-what-you-can performance and $10 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door 5 minutes before curtain). BOX OFFICE: 832-9607,, or SHOW: PRESENTER/VENUE: BLOG: DIRECTIONS/PARKING: NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh ( will audio describe the 8 p.m. March 23rd performance. OTHER LINKS: The Play: (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and (Wikipedia). The Script: (Google Books). The Playwright: (United Agents) and (Wikipedia).

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).