An indie filmmaker and his actress wife invite a trio of friends into their Silver Lake home for ninety minutes of contemporary American playwriting at its most entertaining in Alena Smith’s timely and touching, humorous and human Icebergs, a World Premiere dramedy that proves one of the Geffen Playhouse’s best.
It’s been fourteen years since movie director Calder (Nate Corddry) and paleontologist Reed (Keith Powell) were fellow undergrads, but Facebook, Instagram, and the success of Calder’s first film have kept them apprised of each other’s lives, wives, and in Reed’s case, child, and while Calder and wife Abigail (Jennifer Mudge) haven’t yet managed to get pregnant, their houseguest is taking advantage of a SoCal scientific conference for a much-needed respite from fatherhood.
Calder, meanwhile, is in the midst of Hollywood studio talks about his sophomore script, a “very dark love story” suggested by a real-life British couple’s unsuccessful (and ultimately tragic) attempt to travel by sled to the North Pole, a potential blockbuster that just might get green-lit providing they can get a Zoe Saldana or Kristen Stewart to sign on the dotted line.
That Calder’s wife is not even being considered for the role is but one of the reasons Abigail has been blowing off auditions of late, a more significant cause being her daily exposure to an onslaught of Internet reports on rising sea levels, beached walruses and sea lions, dying oceans, and drought. Oh, and the demoralizing fact that she can’t seem to conceive, though who would even want to raise a child when humanity could be extinct in a few generations?
All this uncertainty about life, both hers and the planet’s, has prompted Abigail to invite longtime bff Molly (Rebecca Henderson) over to read her cards, though her childhood bestie shows up in no better a mood than Abigail, quickly announcing her decision to divorce her wife of two weeks (whom she only just met a couple of months ago).
On a more positive note, who should give Calder a call just now but his agent Nicky (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), who’s coming over with news too exciting not to reveal in person, and with a magnum of celebratory champagne in hand.
Unlike September’s flashier Barbecue, Icebergs plays it straight, garnering character-culture-and-situation-based laughter without a single setup-and-punch, just one reason its eleventh-hour transition into dramatic territory proves seamless.
Angelinos will get a kick out of local references (a November heat wave, the two hours it takes to get from UCLA to Silver Lake) while film buffs will relish insider stuff (this year’s discovery that women can be ghostbusters, Hollywood’s insistence on happy endings even if it means fudging the facts).
And though playwright Smith’s characters may be (four out of five of them at least) SoCal-specific, their concerns about raising a family in a harsh, uncertain world are those we can all relate to, or at least understand.
That Smith manages to accomplish all this in a single location in an hour-and-a-half of real time (and come up with a satisfying ending for each character’s story) is yet another testament to her writing gifts.
Under Randall Arney’s incisive direction, the Gil Cates Theater stage is filled with one sensational performance after another—Corddry’s sympathetic, sexy mensch of a Calder, Mudge’s smoldering stunner of an Abigail, Powell’s appealing outsider of a Reed, Henderson’s ballsy delight of a Molly, and Near-Verbrugghe’s trippy stereotype-defier of a Nicky.
As for Icebergs’ production design, expect to be oohing and aahing scenic designer Anthony T. Fanning’s expansive, minutely detailed Silver Lake home-with-a-view, David Kay Mickelsen’s character-defining costumes (plus some cool Day Of The Dead wear), Daniel Ionazzi’s subtle-to-dazzling lighting, and Richard Woodbury’s pitch-perfect sound design and original music.
Casting is by Phyllis Schuringa, CSA. Lovensky Jean-Baptiste, Zach Kenney, and Lauren Lovett are understudies.
Though strangers when we met last night, Calder, Abigail, Reed, Molly, and Nicky quickly became five vibrant, engaging, utterly real human beings I’d gladly spend another ninety minutes with if not more. Simply put, Icebergs is contemporary American theater at its best.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.
November 17, 2016
Photos: Jeff Lorch Photography