In its Orange County premiere, Bryony Lavery's meditation on criminal intent, the guilt of victims' families, and the cycle of abuse gets an unadorned, effective black-box staging by Jeremy Gable, who at first positions his three actors at the corners of a bluish-gray triangle — a symbolic chunk of ice that is Lavery's prevailing metaphor for the criminal mind and heart.
Lavery starts with a series of monologues before the characters interact. In England, 1980, a serial child molester (Scott Manuel Johnson) abducts, molests, and kills a 10-year-old girl. We follow the police investigation through her mother's (Jill Cary Martin) narrative. During the decades it takes for the case to break and the killer to be imprisoned, the mother is imprisoned, too — by hatred, rage, guilt, and a consuming desire for revenge. Present-day scenes introduce Dr. Gottmundsdottir (Katie Chidester), an American psychiatrist of Icelandic descent whose specialty — serial child killers — involves her with killer and mother. Personal issues of survivor guilt qualify her as a catalyst in the lives of each.
Johnson effectively underplays the killer, Ralph Wantage, as slow-witted yet methodical, his utter dedication to his violent endeavors bordering on fanaticism. Johnson's delivery is hushed and confidential, masking Ralph's explosive rage, lack of impulse control, and inability to feel remorse — qualities the doctor explains as resulting from Ralph's being abused as a child and, later, car-crash damage to his frontal lobe. Martin's turn as Nancy is devastating; its hallmark is an all-too-palpable grief, a portrait of a woman hollowed of all meaning in her life save seeing Ralph punished. Chidester gradually reveals the meaning of the doctor's words, actions, and mood swings but needs to project a more coldly clinical persona to heighten the dichotomy between the character's public career and her private experiences.
Presented by and at the Hunger Artists Theatre, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (Also Thu. 8 p.m. May 24.) May 4-27. (714) 680-6803. www.hungerartists.com.