at the Ark Theatre

Too many shows around town pack their opening-weekend houses with friends and claques, certain the full houses will influence critics to write favorably of the shows. Not this one. The superb cast of three played to a Sunday-night house of three, each actor sweating blood for us, galvanized as if it were their first and last opportunity to actualize their characters, convincing us that we had been so right to pick this night and this production among the so-many others in Los Angeles.

Byrony Lavery's script breaks the rules so dear to sticklers. Three characters speak in monologues for most of the play, coming together in twosomes only occasionally. The emotional results, however, are as potent as any kitchen-sink drama. The mother whose daughter was kidnapped, raped, and suffocated finally confronts the man who committed these acts—and too many others; he is objectively measured, revealed to be a child of abuse, and ultimately cared for by a psychiatrist; the psychiatrist reveals her personal anguish and coping mechanisms. All are "frozen," whether anatomically, emotionally, in time, or other metaphoric cessations. And under Paul Wagar's fluid, sobering, intimate direction, we feel every chill and then the slight thaws the characters undergo.

Jamie Virostko plays Agnetha, the psychiatrist, whom we first meet as she has a breakdown at her front door, howling in grief for her recently deceased research partner. Virostko then shows us how cloaked Agnetha is as she works. The reversal of the standard arc allows us an unexpected and fascinating view of characterization. We don't see but always recall warmth simmering underneath the frozen exterior that is the scientist.

Bibi Tinsley is Nancy, the mother who perpetually recalls her kidnapped daughter as age 10, frozen in memory. Tinsley speaks to us with horror in her eyes; sure, Nancy leads groups of parents and tells her child's killer she forgives him, but Tinsley never reveals to us whether Nancy is truthful to herself and others.

David Grammer is Ralph, the now-incarcerated criminal. Grammer's portrayal is so real, so three-dimensional, that we cannot tell if Ralph is a manipulative monster or the hugely sad child of a reprehensibly sad childhood. Whatever the case, we see Ralph's young victim as Grammer describes her, we see his hideous parents, we even see him living a fantasy life on a peaceful farm.

Birgitte Moos' set design allows for ease of movement and segregation of characters without distraction; costumes by Christie Lynn allow for tiny onstage adjustments to show passage of time; lighting by Anna Quirino reveals periods of warmth and coolness; and the detailed, scene-setting sound by Christopher Moscatiello has the audience looking for the passing jet, the falling object.

Presented by and at the Ark Theatre, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Thu. 8 p.m. Nov. 3 & 10, Fri. 8 p.m. Oct. 28-Nov. 11, Sat. 8 p.m. Oct. 22-Nov. 12, Sun. 2 p.m. Oct. 30, Sun. 7 p.m. Nov. 6-27. Oct. 22-Nov. 27. (323) 969-1707.

Reviewed by Dany Margolies