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STAGE REVIEW

An L.A. Hit Still Looks Fresh as It's Pulled Out of 'Cold Storage'

October 29, 1998|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Something old, something Gnu.

Finely polished performances distinguish the Odyssey Theatre's revival of "Cold Storage," the final production from Jeff Seymour's late, lamented Gnu Theatre.

Seymour returns to the director's chair and this time around co-stars in Ronald Ribman's quietly affecting hospital drama, set in a ward lounge circa 1976. Amid the plastic plants and tacky furniture, a chance encounter--between a yuppie art dealer (Seymour) about to undergo diagnostic tests and a terminally ill cancer patient (Len Lesser)--spawns a probing inquiry into mortality and the search for meaning.

Reprising his role from 1993, Lesser provides the philosophical catalyst as Joe Parmigian, a crafty, cantankerous Armenian grocer desperate to fill the silence of his remaining days. Intrigued by his fellow patient's calm veneer, he launches a sometimes hilarious, sometimes unsettling assault on conventional hospital etiquette, at one point even borrowing from "Hamlet" by nonchalantly pulling out a tooth and ruminating on it like Yoric's skull. Lesser's assured turn sells even the improbable aspects of Joe's character--an unschooled lout who cites Hegel, Spenser and Plato--deftly modulating between clown, racist and all-seeing mentor.

Also returning from the Gnu production, Magda Rivera's Nurse Madurga demonstrates the futility of approaching Joe with even a hint of sympathy, before bidding a hasty retreat.

As Richard, the initially restrained Seymour puts a brave face on both the art dealer's seemingly successful life and his potential illness. But this false persona crumbles under Joe's constant probing, revealing the naked, traumatized soul of a little boy who lost his parents to the Holocaust and has only gone through the motions of living ever since. Even the play's dated, familiar elements can't blunt the impact of this psychological exorcism, rendered so convincingly by these two actors at the peak of their game.

BE THERE

"Cold Storage," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. (except Nov. 8 and Dec. 6, 2 p.m.). Ends Dec. 6. $18.50-$22.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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