It’s always exciting when a new theater company pops up, so I was intrigued when Insider Louisville got press information on Double H Productions. It’s a company I know nothing about, featuring nobody I know. Artist Director Hannah Hoopingarner is a recent transplant from Muncie, Ind., and this production of Byrony Lavery’s “Frozen” is Double H’s first.
The story follows three characters: serial killer Ralph (Calvin Kennedy Cochran); grieving mother Nancy (Stephanie Z. Hall); and Agnetha (Jordan Aikin), a psychiatrist studying serial killers.
When I go see a new company, I try to bring a little extra patience. Like any scene, Louisville’s theater crowd can be cliquish and closed off, which makes sense: Many people are working for free or for pretty symbolic renumeration. But that little bit of extra help a production needs — the right props, a few hands during load in, even something crucial like a set or sound designer — can sometimes make or break a production, and help often isn’t forthcoming to new companies. The director/producer is often trying to wear all the hats, and shows suffer for it.
Likewise, a young company often features young artists, and some artists take time to develop.
So I took an eager heart but extra patience with me to The Bard’s Town.
The good news is I saw some very nice work.
The best discovery of the night was Jordan Aikin’s Agnetha. Just moments into the show, she has a full-on breakdown and panic attack. It was great, showing both sides of the word hysterical. The audience didn’t know whether to laugh or agonize; I chose both.
Calvin Kennedy Cochran is a strong presence as Ralph. Cochran does some nicely consistent accent work, and he manages to avoid the twin traps of playing a serial killer — he holds back from going full evil or full sexy. His Ralph is just a regular Joe whose brain happens to feel comfortable with killing young girls. The play is richer for the nuance.
Stephanie Z. Hall also does strong dialect work as Nancy; almost too strong. It took my ears a full scene or two to adjust and start catching more than every third word. This difficulty was exacerbated by some projection problems, and she frequently wasn’t loud enough.
As an artistic director, Hoopingarner clearly has strong artistic instincts, based on the brave script choice for her company’s debut. She also makes good use of The Bard’s Town stage, painting some diverse pictures with a minimal set.
Unfortunately the tone and pace of the show felt consistently off, and one can’t help but wonder whether Hoopingarner was a little too ambitious with this one.
The ultra serious script would be tough for even the most accomplished company. The subject matter is difficult: child rape, murder and grieving. There’s only so much anguish an audience can take before they shut off and stop being engaged emotionally. On top of the subject matter, the structure of the play is also brutal. The majority of the two-hour run time is comprised of monologues. For long stretches, the characters alternate with solo sessions lasting two to five minutes. That sort of work is difficult at every level, down to basic act of memorization; each actor had to memorize dozens of full pages of text. It’s also difficult to effectively deliver a single five-minute monologue, let alone multiples.
When Ralph and Agnetha finally sat down to talk to each other, more that halfway through an hour and 15 minutes into the first act, I felt like cheering. These interactions allowed the actors to connect and shine. But there were numerous monologues after these scenes, and by the end of the show, I wasn’t really engaging the characters, so the eventual hope and redemption was lost on me.
Frozen may represent a moment of risk and brave growth for Double H, or it may represent the extent of their abilities. Only time will tell.
Frozen runs through Saturday at The Bard’s Town, 1801 Bardstown Road. Tickets are $15, with a discounted rate of $14 for students, seniors and military.