While slurping down some pre-show boba milk tea in the Geffen Playhouse lobby with my stage managing friend Mercedes (there serving as a production assistant Donald Margulies’s The Model Apartment at the smaller Geffen Space, the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre), her first comment to me was that I had certainly dressed the part for the show I was about to see. I looked down: tan cashmere blend sweater, chunky J.Crew be-jeweled collar, purple glasses, suede Madewell pumps...If anything this was one of my more casual theatre looks, I was wearing (premium) denim after all. I asked her what she meant. “You’ll see.”
Icebergs by Yale School of Drama graduate Alena Smith gives us an honest, humorous, yet insightful look into the trials and victories of the mid-thirties/pushing-forty creative professional. Set in the very present day, Calder (played by Nate Corddry), a young, successful Indie filmmaker and his aspiring actress girlfriend Abigail (Jennifer Mudge) own a styled, well-furnished home in the hip, rolling hills of Silverlake. Calder’s old buddy from Missouri, Reed (Keith Powell), comes to stay a few nights with the couple while he attends a scientific convention at UCLA. He confides in Calder that he has been dying to get away from his young daughter and expecting wife just to be by himself for once and hopes he and Calder can partake in as many parties, drugs and drinking excursions as possible on this Day of the Dead weekend. Calder laughs and agrees that they will try their best before confiding in Reed that he and Abigail have been trying to have a baby of their own. Soon Abigail's childhood friend Molly (Rebecca Henderson), a newlywed lesbian lawyer rumored to be a witch, as well as Nicky (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), Calder’s suave, yet dense agent, turn up for the evening. Instead of heading out to a friend’s costume party, with everyone’s relationship and existence baggage out on the table, they decide to stay in for the evening and create their own, because, “it’s a weird fact about LA. Nobody likes to leave their house.” Add a little alcohol and some premium weed; before you know it, even more conflict and potential resolution bubbles to the surface.
When I re-met with Mercedes after the performance, she asked me if I had liked the show. I hesitated, then eventually said yes. I had to think about why I liked it. And then why I had to think before making a definite statement.
The play felt like the pilot episode of a new series, introducing us to the characters while leaving room at the end for their relationships, conflicts and goals to further develop in later episodes. Through her dialogue, Smith’s commentary on this age/lifestyle are on point and part of what makes this show so funny. Boys turned men by societal necessity, nearly ripping off their button-down shirts to return to the comfort of their jeans and screen-printed tees, the idolatry of pet cats, selfies, panic attacks, the naming of plants, the popularity of improv in urban settings, industry pressure vs. creative integrity, actually liking songs we love to hate, and obsessing over “meaninglessness” in our culture, literature and media: these are things I find myself faced with every week in LA. Part of that is disturbing, part of it is beautiful and part of it is hilarious. Because what else can you do but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? Smith has collected all of these little quirks (and then some) and artfully spun them into the characters we meet in Icebergs. And if you’ve lived in LA long enough, you may have even dated someone like each of these characters. It’s not a surprise that Smith is getting recognized for her writing talents on shows like The Newsroom and The Affair.
The acting is...good. Molly and Nicky I felt were the best written and acted characters, also excellent opposing styles of comic relief. They both have a generous share of belly-laugh lines. The actress playing Abigail was asked to come on two days before preview performances began when Thora Birch dropped out of the show for undisclosed reasons. She did well, but with only days to prepare, probably didn’t get the full prep she needed to fully develop her character. Could also be the writing, not totally sure, these are special circumstances.
While driving from Westwood to West Hollywood for a drink, Mercedes and I discussed how frustrated, sometimes infuriated we were by the characters. Indecisiveness, privilege, flippancy, and possibly co-dependence were scattered throughout the characters and it pissed us off. But, maybe that is also because we know so many real-life characters like this that already frustrate us. We also felt that the ending of the show was a bit abrupt, especially after a “first act” that kept us guessing when exactly the conflict would arise, for...kind of a long time.
What did this show make we want to change about myself? I’m not 100% sure right off the bat, which I think was the source of my hesitation when asked whether I liked the show as a whole. Looking back it makes me want to stray from the stereotypical behavior the characters are calling out in the play, but by attempting to deviate from the norm, I’m upholding the very mission of hipsterism. So I can’t win this battle. But maybe that is the point.
I recommend this show, for its cultural relevance, some excellent, hilarious characters and what it set out to do. I don’t know if this is the best play you will see at the Geffen this season, but it’s worth the ninety minutes and will cause you to think...about something. This is a good date night show for people in their 30s, for sure. Definitely something to discuss over cocktails after. The show runs through December 18th at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, CA.