Landau's catharsis breaks down his defenses, and Kolker seizes the opportunity to show another side to his character. While his efforts are noble, this sudden change comes across as a contrived way to force a happy ending, in which the two men become friends. Once exceedingly reserved, Landau is now Mr. Affable, willing to feel his emotions and to reach out to Parmigian. While such a transformation is possible, there's no basis for it in the script: The events in Landau's childhood weren't really that traumatic, nor did they keep him from succeeding in the fine-art market.
The original off-Broadway version of Cold Storage dramatized Landau's memories by introducing a fourth character in a scene set in a police station in Portugal in 1941. The extra scene was cut for the Broadway version in what I assume was an attempt to underscore the connection between Landau and Parmigian and to downplay Landau's past.
The play's structure isn't the only thing that has undergone changes. Although classified as a drama by Samuel French, the company that leases the performing rights, Cold Storage was billed as a comedy during its six-month Broadway run. Even more curious, the Broadway-review excerpts employed by both French and HBT include witty and rib-tickling quotes.
Ribman's uneven script offers both odd-couple humor as well as the drama inspired by Parmigian's acceptance of death and Landau's embrace of life. The script, however, lacks a compelling plot, and Adler's direction stays faithful without taking a close look at the characters' relationship. So, for the most part, Russell's Parmigian comes off as mean-spirited, and Kolker's Landau leaden. It doesn't make for much of a comedic combination, and neither Russell nor Kolker plays up the ethnicity of his role, thus depriving the portrayals of depth. Finally, both Armenians and Jews have survived atrocious campaigns of genocide, and the irony of these two characters meeting in a cancer ward is never explored.
By play's end, Parmigian and Landau still call each other by their last names, as if strangers. Certainly the audience has been given neither reason to bond with these characters nor any insights that allow us to understand them. The events in the garden are simply too prosaic, considering the life-and-death struggles common to a hospital.
It may be that in such situations people stick to superficial relationships and polite evasions. But Cold Storage was written for the theater, and plays about death should teach us much more.
Written by Ronald Ribman; directed by Joseph Adler; with Arland Russell, Joel Kolker, and Ivonne Pelaez. Through March 8. Hollywood Boulevard Theatre, 1938 Hollywood Blvd; 954-929-5400.