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...
(The entire section is 827 words.)