Regional Reviews: St. Louis
In Ben Jolivet's Cold, we are put in an incredible spot, with intensely credible people. On the way out afterward I overheard producer Taylor Gruenloh call it a "hyper-realistic" play. But it's set off in the near future, when patients with terminal illnesses can be cryogenically preserved until there's a cure for them. And yet, due to Kate McAllister's realistic direction, you'll be on the edge of your seat.
It's all set in a plain hospital waiting room, where two worried parents prepare to be called in to say goodbye to their little girl. And that should tell you right away about the stress level. Slowly, Jane and Ellie (the parents) sort their way through the series of events that led them to this state of moral quandary, and thinly veiled panic and recriminationa minor infection in their 5-year-old daughter has developed into a fatal inflammation of her heart tissue. And this has led both young moms to seek out a ghastly, Frankensteinian freezing process that can only begin in the final moments of life.
There's a lot of nail-biting, both literal and figurative, as Ellie (the agitated but true Katie Palazzola) feels the pressure of their life-or-death decision. Her partner Jane (the down-to-earth Erika Cockerham) is forcedif only for the sake of balanceto at least try to be the reasonable one, most of the time.
We are steadily rescued from despair by their surprisingly funny matrimonial bickering, followed by exasperated apologies, and then more bickering. It all becomes a reassuring, familiar structure for much of the play's exposition and self-discovery. In this private distraction from their anguish, they discover the rocky path to the Zen of marriage: to keep at arm's length from the nightmare of losing a child, they must use their own petty warfare and build a kind of separate peace.
Is there a non-hyphenated word for something that is, by turns, both jaggedly tragic and hilarious? Whatever it is, it would describe it all perfectly. Author Jolivet has twice been voted a semifinalist for the Eugene O'Neill Conference, among his other playwriting honors. And here his two characters' (sometimes) monosyllabic arguments are so tightly woven into the dialogue, I wanted to burst into applause at the brilliant economy of it all, in the middle of a scene.
The script swaps out Jane, about halfway or two-thirds through the play, and brings in an exhausted nurse (Rae Davis) who's young, but comforting and funny in an avuncular way, to alter the tone and scope of the story. Ms. Davis' delightful performance, combined with Mr. Jolivet's dialog, makes for an enlightening rescue for the frazzled Ellie, and for us.
Through February 18, 2018, at the .Zack Arts Incubator, 3224 Locust St., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.tesseracttheatre.org.