Winner of this year's SCR California Playwrights Competition, "Green Icebergs" by Cecilia Fannon is a bold and rich romantic comedy, filled with metaphor, about how personalities can help or hinder each other in marriage.

Winner of this year’s SCR California Playwrights Competition, “Green Icebergs” by Cecilia Fannon is a bold and rich romantic comedy, filled with metaphor, about how personalities can help or hinder each other in marriage.

On vacation in the Tuscan Hills of Italy, book editor Justus (Jeff Allin) mistakes Veronica (Nike Doukas), a food garnish specialist and fellow Californian, for his wife. The innocent and awkward moment leads to the discovery of a mutual passion for 15th-century Italian artist and monk Fra Filippo Lippi.

Their interest sweeps them into an affair, mirroring Lippi’s own abandoned inhibitions.

Their spouses, Claude (Robert Curtis-Brown), a talkative and unhappy computer teacher, and Beth (Annie LaRussa), a mousy document illuminator, cannot understand Justus and Veronica’s interest in museums nor in anything that takes a person away from his daily routine.

In short, Claude and Beth represent the unimaginative; Veronica and Justus, wild, free, fascinating passion. In Act 2, the tables turn, interestingly, and one sees the downside of passion and the upside of domesticity.

Green icebergs, as explained by the waiter, a freelance philosopher (played with brio by Hal Landon Jr.), depict a rare event where an Antarctic chunk of ice tips upside down, revealing its plankton-coated underside.

While the play throws out metaphor after metaphor to hammer home its themes, leaving some of the audience trying to keep up with what means what, the imagery often captivates.

In addition, playwright Fannon engages by drawing humor from difficult situations. She has created a kind of “Tempest” where the warm hills of Italy replace Shakespeare’s island, and the winds are all from emotional struggle.

Director David Emmes strongly focuses the piece on character, and his cast often relays information not in word but in gesture.

As Veronica, Nike Doukas gives her character fire, and later displays how passion can be seen as selfish. Jeff Allin delivers wit and angst as the ironically named Justus, who finds no long-lasting peace or justice in his life.

Robert Curtis-Brown adeptly makes Claude both obnoxious and funny. His swagger and unapologetic opinions cut down much in his path until, amazingly, Claude breaks out of his mold and sees a person, Beth, as she truly is.

Annie LaRussa provides the most amazing transformation. Her Beth quietly grows into a multidimensional person whose shyness, in a different light, becomes saintliness.

The set design by Robert Brill and light design by Tom Ruzika adroitly allow for quick scene changes and reflect the temperate, friendly hills of Italy.

Ann Bruice’s costume design underscores the couples’ comfortable incomes. The music by Michael Mora, who also did the sound design, adds to the play’s light spirit.

Green Icebergs

(South Coast Repertory Theatre, Costa Mesa; 507 seats; $ 36 top)

Production

South Coast Repertory presents a comedy in two acts by Cecilia Fannon; director, David Emmes.

Creative

Sets, Robert Brill; costumes, Ann Bruice; lighting, Tom Ruzika; music and sound design, Michael Mora; producing artistic director, Emmes; artistic director, Martin Benson; dramaturg, John Glore. Opened Oct. 21, 1994; reviewed Oct. 22; runs through Nov. 20. Running time, 2 hours, 20 min.

Cast

Veronica ... Nike Doukas Claude ... Robert Curtis-Brown Justus ... Jeff Allin Beth ... Annie LaRussa Waiter ... Hal Landon Jr.
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