According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cold Storage

The provocative questions about life and death raised in Ronald Ribman’s 1976 dark comedy, Cold Storage, leave an audience pondering, long after the curtain has come down, the eventual descent of their own, figurative curtain. But the play’s two hours of conversation between patients at a cancer hospital, unceasing and yet with volumes more unsaid, requires acting and directing precise enough to find movement and meaning in the dense dialogue. Unfortunately, director and star Richmond Shepard’s inability to provide either amounts to a terminal diagnosis for this show.

Reviewed by Sarah Krasnow

Richmond Shepard plays Mr. Parmegian, a dying old man, most of whose insides have been snipped out or rearranged. Wheelchair-bound, hooked to a catheter, and with nothing to do but lounge on the hospital’s rooftop garden, he has reason to despair. However, his detached life view (even if you work hard, you’ll still die; the secret to the universe is there is no point to anything) indicates that he has rarely sweat the details. Dan Burkarth plays the other patient on the rooftop, Richard Landau, a sober, 40-ish art investment advisor in for exploratory surgery. Trying without much success to relax in the garden (as his tense grip on a candy bar suggests), Landau has no interest in conversation. But that can’t stop champion chatterer Mr. Parmegian from talking, and talking, and talking about silly anecdotes, his past, his philosophy on life and death, or Landau’s wife’s varicose veins. Parmegian opines, Landau reacts, and little else occurs. The way they communicate should therefore tell us all we need to know about them, but this production’s direction is too unfocused and the actors’ delivery too unvaried to be revealing. We end up watching the same back-and-forth ad nauseum: Parmegian talks, Landau interjects, Parmegian announces a personal philosophy, repeat. There are gems of humor and nuggets of wisdom here, but when it’s all the audience can do to pay attention, we don’t have the energy to mine for them.

At the end of Act II, a spotlight shift to Landau finally allows the play to move forward, with the recounting of a concrete, coherent story about his family’s deportation from Nazi Germany. Now, for the first time, Shepard listens and responds to his fellow performer, and Burkarth lets his (as Parmegian puts it) “surface veneer” melt enough to let out a few chuckles. At last, we get it: the shared icy experience of death and loss connects two people, however mismatched. Terminal Parmegian is headed quite literally for cold storage, and Landau, a victim of tragedy, suffers in his own kind of cold storage, the temperature dropping further as he faces possible illness. But as Shepard’s underdeveloped take on Parmegian and Burkarth’s unchanging seriousness as Landau fail to illuminate Ribman’s subtler points, we miss the connection until far too late.

As Landau leaves the roof at the close of Act I, Parmegian calls after him, “Be interesting!”, and we wonder why Shepard hasn’t taken his own character’s advice. At the close of Act II, Parmegian says to Landau, after they agree to meet on the roof again, “I promise you a very interesting day.” Now we believe him, but wish it hadn’t taken two hours of unstructured jabber before we did.

Cold Storage (2 hours, 1 intermission)
Richmond Shepard Theatre (309 East 26th Street)Tickets (212-684-2690): $20, students and seniors $10Performances (through 8/30): Wed. – Sat. @ 8pm

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