A screenwriter must choose between preserving the integrity of his story or changing it to please a box-office star. A career-minded actress must decide between having the baby she and her husband presumably long for or pursuing her profession. These conflicts — the bases of countless tales about Hollywood and the biz — serve as the nub of Alena Smith’s new comedy Icebergs. The play is distinguished from similar ones, however, by Smith’s inclusion of the subject of global warming, which informs the lives of her hip and trendy characters. Unfortunately, the acknowledgement of this contemporary crisis fails to disguise the show’s anemic essence.
Directed by Randall Arney at the Geffen Playhouse, events take place in the Silver Lake residence of Calder (Nate Corddry), a screenwriter, and his wife, Abigail (Jennifer Mudge), an actress with enough credits to make her a recognizable face but not a box-office commodity. Calder’s latest project is an inspired-by-a-true-story indie about a couple whose expedition to the Arctic ends in ironic tragedy. Calder would like Abigail to star, he tells his visiting friend Reed (Keith Powell), but the studio plans to go with an actress with more celebrity. The expository conversation between these two old college buddies reveals their conflicting view of fatherhood — Reed is a dad and loudly complains about it, while Calder wants to be one but isn’t. We also become privy to Reed’s view of global warming, which is driven by his perspective as a paleontologist, knowledgeable about the prior extinctions of life on this planet.
A subplot develops around the arrival of Abigail’s friend Molly (Rebecca Henderson), a newly married gay woman already experiencing doubts about her commitment (after only two weeks), and Calder’s agent, Nicky (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), jazzed at the interest of a female star in Calder’s screenplay but concerned by her demand that the ending be changed, knowing full well his client, like most writers, will resist. The sort of guy who’s typically on the prowl, he takes note of Molly, and makes her seduction the secondary purpose of his visit.
For all its pretension to contemporary savviness, Icebergs is bland, conventional stuff. Its characters are people in comfortable circumstances, neither witty nor quirky enough to be particularly interesting. This is true of the portrayals as well, with the exception of Near-Verbrugghe, who turns a role that might easily have been a cliché into a performance that’s edgy and comic. While he’s onstage, the action’s worth watching, even when you’ve seen it all before.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; through Dec. 18. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.