New plays are exciting to see. We are lucky to live in an area where we have writers who are putting themselves out there and telling their truth. This past year, I have gone to quite a few readings of new work that were one-night-only affairs. Town and Country has done something a bit more courageous in producing “Cold Stun,” by giving it a full production and a full run.
Creativity needs encouragement, and I encourage people to go see this show and give feedback, if you are so inclined. The playwright has a good sense of the dramatic, but having said that, I do have my issues with the play and production. If you are a fan of the Food Network and shows like “Chopped,” I would make this analogy: It is similar to a judge saying that given the limited time of the mission to do, let’s say cook the veal chop, you missed an ingredient that was supposed to be a part of the recipe and it wasn’t cooked enough. Though, there are bits that are just lovely.
This is a four-person play, and some characters are not fleshed out as much as they need to be. The play takes place in Cape Cod, near Provincetown, at a group of cottages where protagonist Randall Cook lives with his mother, the abrasive Marabeth Cook. They own these day cottages, which are rental income for them. The father is no longer there. He went out on his boat one day and never came back.
With the Cook family, there are secrets to be found out. As the play does not follow a regular time sequence, there are questions that occur due to this non-linear story telling. Beyond that, there are other questions that are secrets that different characters have about themselves and their family history that get revealed during the play.
The name of the play, “Cold Stun,” comes from fact that turtles are cold blooded, and if young turtles don’t go south in the fall early enough, the descending ocean temperature cold stuns them and they wash up on shore. When this happens, locals will rescue them, try to revive them and, if revived, they release them back in the water. If this happens to a turtle once, they learn from that experience and never make this mistake again. Which, of course, is not what we humans seem to do, who way too often make the same mistake repeatedly and, unlike turtles, also try to bend nature to our will.
Personally, I would have preferred a straightforward timeline. I am not sure what the upside is of starting the first act in the present and then going backward in time to explain certain situations by having Act 2 be yesterday. There is an Act 3, which is tomorrow. This is needless, in my estimation.
I did see in the notes that Judith Light was inspirational, prior to writing the first draft, when she said, “You get a clean slate every day when you wake.” If, by not having it a linear tale, it brings out that proposition of each day is its own story, that becomes a profundity only upon reflection. The damage though is that it doesn’t provide a clear enough narrative to engage the audience through Act 1 to Act 2. A linear timeline avoids that and you would have a more fully engaged audience.
But the playwright’s desire is to keep the timeline of the story non-sequential, the first act has to be so believable, the characters so appealing, that I care enough, don’t question a thing and go along for the ride. Act 1 doesn’t quite get there. The first scene has Randall Cook (Ken Stephon) on the phone when he discovers a stranger in the house. The average person would instantly hang up the phone and tell the intruder to get out. But, he did not do that. He continues his conversation, haltingly but continued, till finally he hangs up and then questions the intruder. The intruder turns out to be Taylor Porter Smith (Roseann Enwright), who has come to the cottage to rescue turtles. Regardless, the initial moment seemed not to ring true. This odd behavior may speak to something different about Randall but, whatever that is, remains unclear to the audience.
His primary relationship is with his mother, played brilliantly by Elaine Wallace. I have not seen her before in anything, but immediately thought Violet from “August: Osage County,” which indeed she played at Town and Country in 2016. Wallace has the ability to create a strong, off-center woman with an unrestrained tongue who somehow remains obnoxiously endearing. I totally believed this relationship between mother and son and the best parts of the show are when they interact. They also have the best lines, and the denouement of the play is where the mother reveals to Randall what happened to his father.
One of my main issues is that I am not sure what the relationship between Randall and his wife Erin O’Reilly Cook (Sharon Warner) is. As her husband, this would have been his primary relationship. But when she is around, he bats her away like she is a housefly, although with her buzzing needlessly around him, he might not be wrong for doing so. Randall has a wife whom he is divorcing and who keeps showing up. It just seems to be annoying.
Why is he getting a divorce? Did we miss something? Of course, she did have an affair with his twin brother, but Randall’s reaction was relatively mild, and not how the average husband would react. I came with two friends and they did not understand the relationship and the breakup, as well. It occurred to me that Randall may be gay. If so, that would explain certain moments. His orientation also would possibly affect how he would interact with Taylor, his female fellow turtle rescuer. My friends thought he was heterosexual. Regardless, the basis of his marriage and then its breakup needs clarification for the audience.
In November, Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide” had a reading at Bucks County Playhouse which also had the same maritime setting and the same secret concerning the father, but had the father as the main character. Those who attended that reading will notice the similarities but they are markedly different. “Outgoing Tide” had a clearer story line but was less ambitious in regarding its themes.
Robert Rosiello is a talented playwright who has given you much to think about. But too many questions are left unanswered. The first act seems likes Randall’s life, too uncertain and not defined enough. But what I appreciated about Rosiello is that unlike many other playwrights, he makes you think. He is not afraid to do so. He is a committed theater artist who has taken on difficult subject matter in past plays as well. This includes “Hay Days” about gay icon and activist, Harry Hay. His resume is impressive.
Town and Country should be proud of launching this play, which is a part of their Signature Series, whose purpose is to promote new work. Bravo to them! As well as to the director, Sarah LeClair, for shepherding the process of bringing this play to the stage.
Final analysis: The Signature Series for new work is an exciting effort by Town and Country to encourage writing. That is exciting and needs all our support so new voices will be heard. Robert Rosiello is a talented theater artist, whose work is thoughtful, at times lyrical. The current play “Cold Stun,” has some powerful individual scenes, especially between mother and son, but its timeline and unanswered questions leave the audience less than satisfied. Inside of this play is a better play waiting to come out.
What does the play have to say? There are secrets in life that should be kept. Less is more. But there are secrets that should be told. Secrets we are afraid to confront, that we are afraid to admit to ourselves. Secrets we should tell each other, that should not be secrets at all. Knowing which tide to follow is a matter of survival. If we make wrong choices, we can be cold stunned and lives can be beached, unable to migrate to warmer and safer climes.
Support Town & Country’s Signature Series for new works and see the World Premiere of “Cold Stun.” The playwright will most likely be there. They don’t have a talkback after the show. I would recommend it. The play has something to offer. Think of it like a turtle. Who doesn’t like turtles? Help this turtle get to a healthier, warmer place.
“Cold Stun” continues until June 15, and tickets are available online.