Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332

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Cold Storage belongs to a tradition of existential theater pioneered by the Anglo-French playwright Samuel Beckett, whose En attendant Godot (pb. 1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954) clearly lies behind Cold Storage. Another artist who has embraced similar theatrical forms is American playwright Edward Albee; his The Zoo Story (pr. 1959, pb. 1960) features a fatal park bench encounter between two New Yorkers. British dramatist Harold Pinter, more nearly a contemporary of Ronald Ribman, creates his “comedies of menace” working from similar assumptions. In Cold Storage, Ribman’s choice of form is obviously related to the postwar dramatic ambience that is sometimes labeled Theater of the Absurd. This designation fits Cold Storage quite well, for Albert Camus’s benign and not overly rigorous humanism, which contributes the philosophical definitions of absurdity, also fits Ribman’s humanist stance at the end of this play.

Since the mid-1960’s, Ribman has produced an astonishingly diverse body of work worthy of his versatile talent. His first full-length play, Harry, Noon and Night (pr. 1965), is a black comedy set in Berlin that, according to drama critic Robert Brustein, “might have been written by a decadent German dramatist of the Weimar period.” The Journey of the Fifth Horse (pr. 1966), Ribman’s next major work, is a complex drama based upon but extending Ivan Turgenev’s short story “The Diary of a Superfluous Man.” The Ceremony of Innocence (pr. 1967) is a historical drama based upon an imaginative interpretation of the reign of an eleventh century English monarch, Ethelred. The Poison Tree (pr. 1973) is a melodrama featuring tense racial relations in a prison where the inmates are mostly black and their guards are mostly white. Sweet Table at the Richelieu (pr. 1987) is a dream play, peopled by a strange and mysterious panoply of characters. In the early 1990’s, he produced The Rug Merchants of Chaos (pr. 1991, pb. 1992) and The Dream of the Red Spider (pr. 1993). Ribman’s writings for the theater are supplemented by extensive work as a screenwriter for film and for television.