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Heat can be intense when science, humanity collide

David Rambo's 'Ice-Breaker' at Laguna Playhouse examines the warmth -- and chill -- of global warming and romantic entanglement.

February 27, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Al Gore and the United Nations have done some mighty fine advance work for "The Ice-Breaker," on stage at Laguna Playhouse. By talking up a topic at the play's core, they've ensured that this double mystery -- two scientists attempting to draw out each other's secrets, wrapped in the larger enigma of Earth's climate change -- will get noticed.

The presentation, sensitively directed by Art Manke and beautifully performed by its two actors, deserves that notice. But the show's timeliness may oversell some of its other merits. The articulate discussion of global warming and ice ages that David Rambo has written into his script, first staged a year ago at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, diverts attention from the fact that this is a rather conventional relationship drama, diminished by some simple, silly and borderline icky plot developments.

Bookended by scenes in Antarctica, the action concentrates on what happens when Sonia (Monette Magrath), a doctoral candidate specializing in Earth's climate, tracks Lawrence (Andrew Barnicle), a former innovator in the field and about 20 years Sonia's senior, to his off-the-grid hideout in America's desert Southwest.

In its ability to combine genuinely absorbing personal drama with heady historical and theoretical discussion, the script is Tom Stoppard-like. Or rather, Tom Stoppard-lite, because Rambo, a writer for the CBS series "CSI" who is best known in the theater world for his play "God's Man in Texas," has let wordplay lead him into the realm of cliche. By pairing the personal and the political as he has, he is able to write a way-too-facile double meaning into the title, and to hammer home this faux-cleverness, he has the characters self-analyze their developing relationship in terms of warming and cooling trends.

Manke (whose recent credits include South Coast Repertory's "Bach at Leipzig" and Magic Theatre's staging of "The Ice-Breaker") and the actors manage to counterbalance all of this glaring obviousness by going for nuance. The ham-handedness of the overall arc is absent in the moment-to-moment; Rambo lays out dialogue that, in its patterns and rhythms, sounds quite natural. The actors make the words their own, uttering them in breathless rushes or awkward pauses that are believably true to life. What's more, Manke and the actors get the body language right. The presentation is, almost literally, a dance as the two characters venture toward and back away from each other.

Portraying an impulsive, talkative person, Magrath impressively delivers science-jargon-laden phrases in giddy torrents. As the recipient of this enthusiasm, playhouse artistic director Barnicle convincingly conveys his character's conflicted emotions: profound reluctance interwoven with an aching need to connect.

Tom Buderwitz's adobe dwelling of a set and Paulie Jenkins' expressive lights are similarly un-showy yet rich in detail.

Though "The Ice-Breaker" may not be grounded in the perfect script, it offers many intellectual and emotional rewards. As it ponders one of Earth's great mysteries, it encounters a number of variables, some attributable to the human animal, whose self-interested behavior is at once unpredictable and, oh, so inevitable.



'The Ice-Breaker'

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, also 7 p.m. March 11

Ends: March 18

Price: $30 to $65

Contact: (949) 497-2787,

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

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