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Opinion: Millard's missing the real drama at heart of 'Ice Breaker'

  • Author: Peter Porco
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 4, 2015

In Friday's review of "Ice Breaker," the play at Cyrano's, Egan Millard praised the actors and elements of the set but slammed the script by David Rambo for being "contrived" and worse. In Millard's view, "Ice Breaker" loads itself up with "pseudo-poetic non-sequiturs" and, its serious flaw, fails to treat with tact and nuance Earth's worsening climate crisis -- a crisis that demands, he suggests, new art that will drum news of the coming global disaster into our heads.

Millard's views of "Ice Breaker" as a play are extreme and miss the heart of it. Its characters, Lawrence and Sonia, indeed discuss the changing climate -- not just today's but also atmospheric variations over the last 100,000 years (discussions that I found interesting, intelligible and, dramatically speaking, kept wisely under control). Nevertheless, the science -- the glaciers and ice caps with which the two researchers have been preoccupied, the past climatic events they've uncovered, the future outlooks Sonia in particular is obsessed with -- all of this is not the thrust of the play.

At bottom, "Ice Breaker" is not about science. It's not even about the ups and downs in the careers of these two academics. It is instead a love story for which all the rest is context. Girl meets boy, girl gets boy, girl drops boy, girl returns, keeps boy, boy is happy. The two are scientists but the play would be mostly the same if they were musicologists or athletes.

I don't think "Ice Breaker" is a great play. Its story is (except for the science) somewhat conventional and predictable. But the play has its charms and, at least to this viewer, it was largely satisfying. What irritates Millard, perhaps, is that we audience members did not rush from the theater to agitate for a reduction in carbon emissions. It's true, after seeing the show, I did not feel that the threat from climatic disruption of human society was going to be any worse than it already promises to be. (Lawrence and Sonia, incidentally, do not have an agenda beyond the science; they are not much concerned with affecting policy in any obvious way.)

This is not to say that art should not take an active role in educating the emotions about the findings of science. It should and it can. That, in fact, has been the explicit purpose of "In a Time of Change," a national program in which Alaska artists have participated in recent years, creating mostly visual representations of how they see climate change. Theater too can play a role. It might possibly lead to policy changes that would slow down or even mitigate against environmental sins. But the likelihood is that any play with such a difficult agenda needs a great story at its core. Or who's going to listen?

Although David Rambo chose the context for his story deliberately, his play does not function as a lesson in science or scientific or political activism. It functions as no lesson at all. Except, I would guess, that we should open to the possibility of love. Love stories, tales of fulfilled romance, are stories of hope, new life -- stories of spring. Despite all the talk of ice, that's the season "Ice Breaker" celebrates.

Peter Porco, a former Anchorage Daily News Reporter, is a writer who lives in Anchorage.