Review: Cold Storage

by George Perry

A Toronto stage becomes a hospital’s rooftop garden in a play about the meaning of life

Len Lesser and Jeff Seymour

Cold Storage, written by Ronald Ribman in 1977, was originally presented in New York City. It is a two act play, and more or less a two man play. Both acts take place on a hospital roof garden in New York City. It is now playing at University of Toronto’s George Ignatieff Theatre.

We arrived early and enjoyed a warm spring evening outdoors. The courtyard next to the theatre is really just a grass field. It is already brown and exhausted from a hot spring. Inside, the stage was nearly as barren as the courtyard. A table, three fake plants, five chairs and a street lamp provided the set.

The play begins with three characters on stage. We see two men sitting in wheelchairs and wearing pyjamas. One is Joseph Pamigian (Len Lesser) and the other is Richard Landau (Jeff Seymour – who also directed the piece). Joining them is a nurse, Miss Madurga (Celina Verani), although her appearance is so infrequent that this is, as I mentioned earlier, more or less a two-man show.

Parmigian has been in the hospital for months and is the older of the two. His livelihood revolved around perishable fruit. Old and strong, he made his money selling plantains and tangerines. He knows his way around the hospital, and Lesser knows his way around the stage.

Landau has been recently admitted to hospital. He is in for simple “exploratory surgery”. His stay planned for a couple of days, he is 40 with a wife and kids. He leads a comfortable lifestyle dealing in centuries old ceramics and related artifacts. He is young and stylish, making his money on art auctions.

The acting was very convincing, very engaging. At times I had to stop myself from joining the dialogue, they were that interesting. The desire to join in was more predominant the first, more comedic act. Both actors excel at comedy with exceptional timing and delivery.

Both actors provide strong performances, but Lesser really IS this play. It’s not really a surprise, considering his experience and previous accomplishments. He has been acting for more than six decades, and, although he is likely best known for his role as Uncle Leo from television’s Seinfeld, he is no stranger to the stage, with performances in over 100 plays.

The failings of the play were the long dramatic scenes in the second act. Landau’s long monologues left us both daydreaming at times.

Pieces of the show are absurd and hilarious, this is a play about the meaning of life.  Both characters agree: life should be kept interesting. And, in that spirit, both talented men kept the evening interesting.

Cold Storage is playing at George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place) until June 11, 2010
– Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Sunday at 2pm
– Ticket prices range from $20 – $25
– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at (416) 978-8849

Photo of Len Lesser and Jeff Seymour