Coming on the tails of yet another bitter Midwest winter, Dream Theatre Company presents the aptly titled original work "Cold," written by company artistic director Jeremy Menekseoglu. Ably directed by Laura Gouin, it is a sweet and intimate portrait of two people desperate for connection, yet trapped in their own insecurities in tellingly similar ways.
The play is set in St. Paul, just before Christmas. Nate (played by Menekseoglu) is standing outside an office building, holding a petition to be signed but lazily refusing to talk to passersby. Enter Lyric (Nicole Roberts), heading into the building to go to her office job, but who stops to engage Nate in conversation.
Lyric is bright-eyed and outgoing, and though Nate is clearly uncomfortable with the interaction (we also see him popping prescription pills that suggest they are for anxiety), Lyric insists on inviting Nate to a friend's holiday party that evening.
Surprisingly, Nate complies, arriving at the boisterous party with a gift for Lyric that reveals him to be a thoughtful and considerate young man. Lyric is touched, but also ready for a party, growing louder and wilder by the minute. Nate, clearly overwhelmed by his surroundings, also manages to insult the party's host, and soon he and Lyric are out in the cold again.
What follows is stilted conversation and moments of awkward physical exchange. Nate, whom we come to see as rather reclusive and socially isolated, is clearly drawn to the more extroverted Lyric. But what is Lyric's attraction to Nate?
After an argument ensues and the pair parts company, we see Lyric interact with a never-seen older man. Her insecurities begin to show, and it is revealed, very delicately, that Lyric, too, is quite isolated in her own world. A constant loneliness permeates her being, and she fills it will white noise and empty physical exchanges with strangers. Was Nate just another lonely man that she needed to temporarily fill the emptiness, or was this a meeting of kindred spirits who recognized something of themselves in the other? And how can genuine connection truly take place, when the gulf that surrounds each of them has become so comfortable for them to maintain?
I found "Cold" to be a wonderful change of pace in my recent theatre-going experiences. "Cold" does not seek to change the world, nor comment on politics or the socioeconomic dynamics that the characters face. "Cold" is bare-bones in its conception and execution, and in offering two people struggling with their inner demons, we the audience get to see our own struggles reflected back to us. After all, is there a more universal human experience than loneliness?
The space that Dream Theatre inhabits is very small (seating less than 30 by my estimation), and set design can be challenging with such confinement. Company member and set designer Anna Menekseoglu did a fine job of creating a set that was fluid enough to offer different locales, yet never cluttered (use of a screen projecting different images was very well-employed).
Additionally, the acting in "Cold" was very strong, even as it was understated (as dictated by the close proximity of the audience). There are moments when the interaction between Lyric and Nate comes close to becoming too saccharine, and this was circumvented by the complete sincerity and utter believability that Menekseoglu and Roberts brought to their performances. There are moments when the actors converse almost directly to the audience, placing characters there that only exist in their mind's eye.
It is a risky technique to employ, but neither actor misses a beat. We get to see all of the humor, the pain, and the hope that Nate and Lyric hold, and it is this thrill of exchange that is the very best of live theatre. Bravo.
"Cold" runs through March 8 at Dream Theatre Company, 5026 N Lincoln Ave in Chicago. For information or tickets, call 773-552-8616 or visit www.dreamtheatrecompany.com