The only inconvenient truth about David Rambo’s two-person The Ice-Breaker, directed by Art Manke for The Laguna Playhouse is that it closes next weekend.
This excellent – and timely – production tells the story of a pilgrimage that Sonia (Monette MacGrath) - young, precocious, frenetic, to say the least - makes to the desert hermitage of Lawrence (Andrew Barnicle), reclusive scientist, surly, not a little mad.
She wants him to read her unwieldy first draft of a thesis that incorporated and then expanded upon his pioneering work in the field of climatology.
She had found – read, absorbed - his journal in Antarctica, a journal in which he recorded his musings poetic on the intersection of art and science. A True Believer, she tracked him down.
He won’t touch the thesis, for reasons that soon become plain.
The rest of this wonderful story describes how she crosses the line from acolyte to colleague, from inquirer to lover, from fan to friend.
The script’s top notch. At times it enchants – it could be a love story but it’s not, really; at times it illuminates like those dinky stars that twinkle above the set; at times it plumbs the depths of betrayal.
Rambo plucks the discussion of climate change out of the forum of politics and careerism (though both characters did get gored by the same erstwhile colleague) and places it in a more humanistic context, one to which we can more readily relate.
Throughout the story he maintains a metaphor of fire and ice. Frozen ice caps, frozen hearts, both of which can both melt.
We are chilled by the ice that is not just Lawrence’s field of study but by his demeanor and the reasons for it.
We are warmed by the sun of the desert setting as well as the heat put off by Sonia’s high spirits, especially her charming entrance (“She asks, boldly”), high metabolism, and juvenile propensity to arson.
The images are rapturous: Sonia reads an entry from the journal in which Lawrence muses about the oxygen that escapes these ice core drillings, oxygen that Napoleon and other historical figures breathed.
The performances will astound you. MacGrath made Sonia a bundle of energy, high strung, to say the least, but in a way that gets into your heart, not under your skin. She made us understand the double-edged sword of the precociousness of genius: she was bubbly, enthusiastic, and curious, all good qualities for a scientist, all good qualities to set her up for a big fall from jealous cohorts.
Barnicle’s made Lawrence troubled, deeply-troubled. Arid like the desert. Watch how he shows Sonia the door early on, her thesis unread. Watch how he blossoms like a flower on a cactus when she returns. And watch him tell the stories of his professional and marital betrayal and the loss of his daughter, the person to whom he addressed his journal. Great job!
Performances are Tue. – Sat., 8 PM, Sat. & Sun., 2 PM. The play runs until March 18. Tickets are $25 - $65. The Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. For more information call (949) 497-2787, ext. 220, or visit www.LagunaPlayhouse.com.