Nate Corddry, Jennifer Mudge and Keith Powell star in ‘The Affair’ writer Alena Smith’s new comedy at the Geffen Playhouse, which focuses on Los Angeles strivers struggling to put down roots.
The world may be coming to an end in playwright Alena Smith’s Icebergs, but you wouldn’t know it from the sunny home at the center of this brisk comedy, making its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse. Smith, a writer for HBO’s late great The Newsroom and a writer-producer on Showtime’s The Affair, has assembled a knowing look at Los Angeles’ filmmaker culture — the hopefuls continually drawn to it and the agents who shovel them around.
The thirtysomethings who populate this piece — a fast 95 minutes in two acts with no intermission — came of age in the ’90s, an era when the thinking was that anything might be possible. But as they descend more deeply into adulthood they see that nothing is guaranteed, income stability may not ever be possible and oh, by the way — climate change is about to fry us all to death.
Nate Corddry (Mom) stars as Calder, a conflicted filmmaker inching up the ecosystem, yearning for both indie cred and a blockbuster franchise to call his own. When college pal Reed (Keith Powell) — now a Midwest science professor — flies in for an overdue visit, this provides the setting to explain L.A.’s absurdities.
Calder also has some very specific dreams for himself and his actress-wife Abigail, ably portrayed by Jennifer Mudge, who stepped in on a day’s notice, replacing Thora Birch when she left the production just as previews were beginning. In thrashing out whether women really can have it all, Abigail’s anxieties about motherhood and career keep morphing, which seems to have driven her just shy of the edge, a balancing act Mudge pulls off quite well.
But Powell (so endearing as Harvard geek Toofer on 30 Rock) has the show’s most telling moment as he explains why Reed isn’t sure he should have had kids at all.
Abigail’s tart pal Molly (Rebecca Henderson) also has baby fever and a new lover courtesy of Airbnb, which may be the new Tinder. The laughs are plentiful (“New York will try to crush you with negativity. L.A. will kill you with enthusiasm”) and they are most often delivered by Calder’s needy agent Nicky (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), whose too-tight suit and L.A. affect are dead-on.
But it’s Corddry, an earnest actor on countless TV shows, in film and on stage, who is Icebergs’ perfect anchor — a calm, hardworking husband full of endless optimism. When he advises, “Don’t go on the internet anymore,” you know he means well.
Director Randall Arney, who is also the Geffen’s artistic director, conveys the humor and panic that has engulfed these characters as they navigate L.A.’s hip Silver Lake neighborhood. The play, which takes place in early November, was not updated after last week’s presidential election. Dialogue such as “Everything is so terrible,” and “We’re not in some dystopian hellscape here,” plus a vivid take on racism, sexism and white supremacism, seemed to resonate with the opening-night crowd, perhaps in ways not originally foreseen by the playwright.
Scenic designer Anthony T. Fanning and lighting designer Daniel Ionazzi have created an airy suburban retreat for these players, complete with a vaulted ceiling that looks to be pointing toward limitless opportunity. But in Icebergs, the land beneath us all is ever-shifting, and doom may come knocking.
Venue: The Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles
Cast: Jennifer Mudge, Nate Corddry, Rebecca Henderson, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Keith Powell
Director: Randall Arney
Playwright: Alena Smith
Set designer: Anthony T. Fanning
Costume designer: David Kay Mickelsen
Lighting designer: Daniel Ionazzi
Music & sound designer: Richard Woodbury
Dramaturg: Rachel Wiegardt-Egel
Executive producers: Laurie & Bill Benenson, Martha Henderson, Pamela Robinson Hollander & Robert Hollander, Loretta Everett Kaufman & Victor Kaufman, Jason & Yvonne Lee, B. Scott Minerd, Linda Bernstein Rubin & Tony Rubin, Kimberly Steward & Josh Godfrey, Miranda & Brett Tollman
Presented by: Geffen Playhouse