The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The action of Cold Storage takes place in the roof garden of a cancer hospital in Manhattan. A newcomer, Richard Landau, admitted to the hospital for exploratory surgery, is confronted by Joseph Parmigian, who is in an advanced stage of the disease. The arena of discovery and conflict in the play resides within the personalities and histories of these two characters, and defenses and pretensions are peeled away like the layers of an onion as each man faces his inevitable deterioration and death and hence must assess the meaning of his life.

In the first act of the play, the focus is on Parmigian, a prosperous produce dealer of Armenian descent. Parmigian is naturally garrulous, and his colorful conversation is peppered with hyperbole, metaphor, and gallows humor. The merchant is a more accessible personality than Landau to begin with, and perhaps because of his terminal condition, he is more actively confronting his demons. Initially, Parmigian seems obnoxiously aggressive, seeking instant intimacy with the more reticent Landau. He launches a seemingly bigoted assault upon Landau’s Guatemalan private-duty nurse, who, it is later revealed, had earlier tended Parmigian. She had, in fact, read to him the entirety of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590) and, despite his illness, had inspired lust in the dying man. In reaching out to Landau, Parmigian lays bare elements of his own beliefs and fantasies, dreams and limitations.

Early in the first act, Parmigian asks Landau to help him commit suicide by pushing his wheelchair off the edge of the roof garden. Parmigian explains that the anguish of his physical deterioration is exacerbated by the expiration of his medical insurance. He now must sacrifice the assets accumulated throughout a lifetime to pay his medical bills, and if he lives much longer, he must risk leaving his wife, who shared thirty years of work and love with him, impoverished after his death. Parmigian’s extraordinary request opens a dialogue of growing intensity...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The audience’s first impression of a play comes from its title, and the title Cold Storage immediately distances the audience, produces discomfort, and draws attention to the inert core of the play. The discomfort is appropriate, for neither the surface subject—a conversation between patients in a cancer unit—nor the underlying metaphysical alienation and hopelessness are meant to be particularly comfortable. When the specific phenomenon of cold storage is finally mentioned, it evokes the devastation of the Holocaust.

The inertness implied by the title is as significant as the discomfort. This is a drama of revelation, not of action; almost nothing happens in the play. Even the occasional disagreement between the characters is not true conflict; rather, it is a verbal dance as they attack and parry, changing rhythm and tempo and direction but never focus. Their argument is with the conditions of existence, and it is a most unequal battle. Near the end, Landau breaks out in rebellious rage against God: “He’s killed everything. . . . You sit in your chair waiting, and you know Him. You die in a concentration camp and His hand reaches into your mouth for the gold teeth and you know Him.” His friend answers, “There is no Him, Landau, just us.” The play even ends without resolution: The audience never finds out whether Landau has cancer or how much time remains for Parmigian.

In performance, the first dramatic device is the...

(The entire section is 509 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Kelly, Margot H. “Life Near Death: Art of Dying in Recent American Drama.” In Text and Presentation, edited by Karelisa Hartigan. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1988.

Klaver, Elizabeth. “Ronald Ribman’s Buck, Unsolved Mysteries, and the Television Simulators.” American Drama, Fall, 1997, 82-98.

Marks, Jonathan. “Ronald Ribman.” In Contemporary Literary Criticism. New York: Longman, 1989.

Weales, Gerald. The Jumping-Off Place: American Drama in the 1960’s. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

Weales, Gerald. “Ronald Ribman.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.