Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408
Joseph Parmigian, a dying cancer patient in his sixties. He is of Armenian background, is married, and owns a fruit and vegetable store in Greenwich Village. He is still hungry for experience and knowledge. An opinionated smart aleck who, with brass, sarcasm, and broad humor, smashes through the reserved shell of Landau, a fellow patient in a New York City hospital. Parmigian, prodding and provoking, demands that Landau reveal his dreams. Parmigian has never felt settled or satisfied with life, and his wacky exuberance is balanced by a bleak vision of the ultimate meaninglessness of things and contradictory subcurrents, typified by his revelation of “the best time to commit suicide, when you’re in a good mood.” In the end, though, it is not so much this out-of-place, deathbed Rabelaisianism that inspires Landau to break his reticence but Parmigian’s confession that he is at the end of his tether in trying to face up to his approaching death.
Richard Landau, a man in his mid-forties who is in the hospital for “exploratory” surgery. He is a Jewish investment adviser who recommends art and antiques to wealthy clients; he is married, with two daughters. He is vaguely discontented with the whirl of modern life and seeks solace in the eternal verities as they are offered by fine china and antique furniture. He is quietly self-possessed, alternately tantalized and scandalized by Parmigian’s verbal antics. Although he is drawn into the conversation by the older man’s ability to reconstruct, without knowing him, the general contours of his life, Landau skillfully parries efforts to get him to reveal himself. When he does reveal himself, he discloses an obsession that proves sobering to Parmigian. Landau is searching, through psychiatry and introspection, for a clearer memory of his parents, who gave him to another family in Nazi Germany to save him from the concentration camps in which they perished. This inward, backward quest has stopped Landau from living in the present, though his self-confrontation in the hospital brings about his spiritual rebirth, ironically midwifed by a man on the brink of death.
Miss Madurga, the young, attractive Hispanic private-duty nurse of Landau. She was formerly Parmigian’s nurse. She appears briefly at the opening of act 1, to serve as a bridge to begin the conversation between the two patients, and at the close of act 1, to wheel Landau away. There is no nonsense about her.
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