The titular icebergs of Alena Smith's new play, although never seen onstage, are not the kind of behemoths that would sink luxury liners. These bergs, located somewhere up in the frozen north, are shrinking to the point where they will no longer be able to accommodate families of walruses. And back in southern California, where the temperature registers a balmy 90 degrees in November, a crossroads-facing actress named Abigail worries about those icebergs and those walruses. She worries a lot.
So it goes in Smith's high-anxiety-fueled riff on subjects as diverse as global warming, family planning, movie-making, race relations, paleontology, gay marriage, and a cat named Taco who is described by his owner as "an enlightened being." That may seem like a rather crowded (and eclectic) menu, but the world premiere of Icebergs, directed by Randall Arney at the Geffen Playhouse, coasts along blithely, deftly eluding any potential dramatic landmines.
The setting is Silver Lake, a hip L.A. community located between Hollywood and downtown where thirtysomething writer and director Calder (Nate Corddry) is on the verge of nailing down a name star for his latest film. If Calder gets his name, his movie has hit potential, possibly vaulting Calder into "player" territory. Then he and his actress wife, Abigail (Jennifer Mudge), for whom that part was originally written, could perhaps start to feel better about many things, such as starting a family to contemplating the state of the world. While Calder is gung-ho about this baby business, Abigail seems more concerned about everything else going on in the news than about conceiving a child.
On this particular day, the Day of the Dead, Calder and Abigail have a houseguest: Calder's college roommate Reed (Keith Powell), a paleontologist from the Midwest who is in town for a conference. Jazzed at having a holiday from his 2-year-old daughter and pregnant wife, Reed plans to use this L.A. sojourn to cut loose. Abigail, meanwhile, has a date with her best friend Molly (Rebecca Henderson), an acerbic gay lawyer who reads Abigail's tarot cards nearly every day. Last to arrive is Calder's agent Nicky (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), who shows up, massive champagne bottle in tow, booming the tidings "We got DUNST!"
There's not much plot to speak of over the course of 95 congenial minutes. We largely know where Smith is headed and are not brought up short when Smith detours us, for example, from reefer jokes into a speech about cops shooting black people in Missouri. Mostly the laughs are abundant and the characters smartly cast. Abigail might finally be pregnant, or maybe she's not. She may actually want the part in Calder's movie, or perhaps she doesn't. Reed, an industry outsider by virtue of his being from Missouri and a scientist, gets to slip in penetrating, priority-defining questions that Calder can't easily answer. Molly and Nicky have all the best comic lines and ramp up the funny. Near-Verbrugghe's preening sketch of an agent in particular, with his elegant suit and immovable hair, is precisely the representative that industry types in the Geffen audience may well recognize.
Mudge's Abigail is so steeped in fear and neuroses that she takes a few minutes to adjust to. As she rips manically through a monologue about the oceans rising and the mass starvation of sea lions ("Did you know oceans could die?"), the actress has us convinced that the lady might legitimately need tons of pills. Then, a few minutes later when she's bouncing on the couch as she spills the beans about how Molly met her wife, Mudge pushes us to a different realization. Abigail's both a thespian and she's nuts. But Mudge softens and deepens the character with sensitivity for this terrified lady as Icebergs moves forward. And in Mudge — an 11th-hour replacement for Thora Birch — Arney has an actress who is both the production's anchor and its moral compass.
Corddry's Calder may be just as frightened, but he's not allowed to crack. If there's supposed to be potential marriage-ending tension between these two, Corddry and Mudge never let us see it. Which is just as well, since, at its heart, Smith's play is about being there for each other when the dams break or the icecaps melt.
Anthony T. Fanning's chic and brightly lit set feels a bit more in the spirit of a beach residence than the hills of Hollywood. Lighting designer Daniel Ionazzi and composer and sound designer Richard Woodbury are nicely in synch, particularly as the whole company, dressed in 99-cent store skeleton costumes, rocks out to Drake's "Hotline Bling." After all, even preapocalyptic rom-coms need a soundtrack.
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