Los Angeles Theater Review: ICEBERGS (Geffen)

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by Jason Rohrer on November 20, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


A new play opened at the Geffen this week. It is called Icebergs, and it was written by Alena Smith. It was directed by Playhouse artistic director Randall Arney. It is a show illustrative of several tendencies in modern regional theater:

  • jennifer-mudge-and-nate-corddry-photo-by-jeff-lorch-photographyIt is written by a Yale-educated TV writer. Smith’s best work is on social media, in the delightful character of Tween Hobo and in sharp political observations as herself. If you have a playwright friend who wants to know how to get a show up at a big house, suggest working for Aaron Sorkin and gaining a Twitter following of over 10,000.


  • It is a show about show business. Three of the five clichés populating it – a dull, earnest filmmaker, an hysteria-prone movie actor, a bimbo agent – are incapable of conversation outside the solipsism of a Hollywood-centric premise. These characters are simultaneously star-struck and self-reflexive, leaning way out to pat an entertainment industry-heavy audience on the back for being in on the in-jokes about how nobody does theater in L.A.


  • It is a show about liberals who feel helpless; global warming is the central metaphor, and the admonishment is not to think about it.
  • Jokes about L.A. traffic start the ball like a stale fart. I cannot count the number of shows I have seen that start this way. I can easily count the number in which the gesture worked.


  • Somebody gets pregnant and then doesn’t. Somebody’s getting divorced and then doesn’t. Somebody gets a career opportunity and then doesn’t. It is a drama in which the potential for both achievement and obstacle is repeatedly removed, stealing stakes from stagnant characters.
  • Characters meant to be taken seriously, whose white-people problems form the dramatic crux, are also mocked for adjusting their lives around crystals and Tarot cards. I’m either supposed to care about these people or I’m not.


  • A single ancillary gay character is represented as both flighty and grounded.
  • A single ancillary black character is the moral center of a group of white people.


  • Good actors are mostly wasted. Jennifer Mudge replaces Thora Birch, who left the production after the programs were printed. Mudge and Nate Corddry seem miscast, lacking the charisma to enliven humorless, pedantic roles. Keith Powell seems misdirected, delivering an over-the-top comic relief better suited to a football stadium full of children. Rebecca Henderson and especially Lucas Near-Verbrugghe benefit from the flash parts, bringing the appropriate tonal balance and fleshing out their archetypes to good effect.


  • The direction is confined to a single bizarre sequence in which the style and mood lift and open, suddenly making the play a watchable vehicle for messages of social conscience. After a minute or two of pop-song playfulness, the show reverts to the same trite realism that has choked theatricality from big stages for decades.
  • A character who doesn’t know what she wants drives the action, and so no problem is defined, and so none can be resolved. The play’s crisis is in the missing third act.


photos by Jeff Lorch Photography

Gil Cates Theater
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave
ends on December 18, 2016
for tickets, call 310.208.5454 or visit Geffen

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