by David Rambo
Directed by David Zoffoli
Featuring Will Lyman and Amy Russ
New Repertory Theatre
Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown MA / (617) 923 -8487
Through Nov. 19

Reviewed by Will Stackman

Hollywood veteran David Rambo's "The Ice-Breaker", originally commissioned for the Geffen in L.A., is having part of its National New Play Network's "rolling national premiere" at the New Rep over at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. This two-hander has already been done by the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and the Phoenix in Indianapolis. The piece has the feel of a treatment intended for development in a small film being tried out as a play. As a concept, comparing the immensity of an incipient ice-age to a December/May (or perhaps June) relationship between an older male scientist in seclusion and a brash female young grad student is potentially intriguing. The resulting pedestrian script is however isn't and ultimately banal with a weak payoff. It's Ibsen-inspired musings combined with romantic comedy quickly wear thin.

Boston's best underworked actor, Will Lyman, the voice of Frontline, makes a convincing paleogeologist, Lawrence, driven to a desert hideaway by academic politics over his controversial ideas and a family tragedy. He was seen most recently as Claudia on the Common two summer's ago, Energetic Amy Russ plays a perennial student of indeterminate years, Sonia, seemingly juvenile because of her lowly academic position. Unfortunately her underwritten role becomes monotonous, dependent on superficial charm and bumptiousness. While Lyman has a deliberate depth to his performance, her's becomes tedious and not very believable, even during a brief nude scene. The two sometimes seem to be in two different plays not written by the same author.

Too many of Sonia's actions are plot devices, from finding Lawrence's diary in Antartica while there on an punitive Outward Bound visit to finally "getting" the significance of his research as the climax. Assumptions about the background of each character as displayed by their actions are barely supported by what they actually have to say. Scientific responsibility hardly enters the story. Director David Zoffoli from Merrimack Rep keeps the action going through some fairly dubious passages but ultimately the conclusion of the romance is unconvincing, being delivered by mail with a final scene spotlighting the pair on opposite sides of the stage--and the world.

The New Rep production is good-looking with an effective realistic set by MIT architect Alan Joslin. He's provided a inside/outside inspired by Native American dwellings, well lit by David Parichy who's worked with Zoffoli in Lowell. Exterior scenes , including lightning on the cyc, and candlelit interiors are nicely atmospheric. Molly Trainer's costumes done for two people in one setting suggest an academic lack of concern for fashion on the part of both, plus a penchant for easily packed, hard to wrinkle garb. David Kahn's passing thunder storm and incidental Southwestern local radio cuts add to the verisimilitude. But the quality of the production can't make up for the failings of the script

. Supporting new plays is an important though risky part of today's regional theatre. The demand for newness is a two-edged sword. Audiences want to be assured of the quality of what they're about to see, while being attracted to idea of world premieres. The New Play Network seems to be a reasonable compromise if only as a PR tool. The New Rep presented Philadelphian Thomas Gibbon's "Permanent Collection" in 2004 also under the auspices of the same initiative. Later this season, they'll present Austin Pendleton's "Orson's Shadow", which was read successfully here in 2003 . It's been seen in NYC and its suburbs. But their greater successes with new material have be local, such as Joyce Van Dyke's "A Girl's War," or last season's "Bill W. and Dr. Bob" which will reopen in New York under Rick Lombardo's direction at New World Stages in March 2007.


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