It's impossible to miss the metaphors in The Ice-Breaker, the story of two emotionally frostbitten climate scientists whose deep personal secrets are melted by the heat of their intensifying attraction, just like the polar ice caps they've been studying in the age of global warming. See? Of course you do. It's a pretty-convenient truth.
But playwright David Rambo just can't stop celebrating his little contrivance: the artic experts rendezvous in the scorching southwestern desert; she's a chatty grad student with an abnormally high body temperature and he's a reclusive genius with a chilling recurring nightmare; the freezer in his kitchen has never been defrosted, and she keeps breaking off chunks to put in her drink. The all-too-cleverness soon becomes distracting.
That's too bad because The Ice-Breaker features two strong, yet nuanced, characters who deserve our undivided attention. Idealistic grad student Sonia Milan (Monette Magrath) has tracked down the brilliant but disgraced Dr. Lawrence Blanchard (Andrew Barnicle), who is her hero as much for the scientific research he has published as for the personal reflections he wrote in a diary she found. Although they seem like polar (my bad) opposites, beneath the surface Milan and Blanchard actually share a lot of characteristics—ambition, self-pity, arrogance, manipulation, blaming and horniness. In other words, these are people everybody can identify with.
Rambo's script breathes life into both of them. On stage, however, only Magrath seems like a real human being. She is propelled by Sonia's endless hot air, which is sometimes a bluster, other times a breeze. Barnicle, meanwhile, seems trying to interpret Blanchard's demons and quirks, and too often turns them into self-aggrandizing pronouncements.
Beneath all the social topicality and scientific technicality, the essence of The Ice-Breaker is actually the timeless story of people struggling to re-emerge from the isolating places where they have retreated to escape life's pain—and realizing that they don't have forever to do it. Yes, the process of plunging through the layers of our personal histories is probably comparable to the drilling through centuries of polar-ice sheets. But telling us once is probably enough.
THE ICE-BREAKER AT THE LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE, 606 LAGUNA CANYON ROAD, LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 497-2787; WWW.LAGUNAPLAYHOUSE.COM. TUES.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 p.m.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH MAR. 18. $25-$65.