Cold Comfort

Katey Hoffman and Chris Cochrane.  Credit: Jason Lang
Katey Hoffman and Chris Cochrane.
Credit: Jason Lang

At Havana Studio until February 9 or at the door

Posted on February 6, 2013

Cold Comfort is a deliciously funny and nasty play by Jim Garrard. And it’s the first offering of YOGURT Theatre Co (tagline: Get Cultured) with Studio 58 grad Chris Cochrane at the helm. It’s reminiscent of John Patrick Shanley plays like Savage in Limbo and Danny and The Deep Blue Sea with its deeply wounded or just plain crazy characters but it’s Canadian, eh?

Garrard sets the play in a derelict gas station on the side of the Trans Canada Highway in rural Saskatchewan, circa 1980. Set designer Christopher David Gauthier frames in what would have been the living quarters of the station manager years ago when the place was still selling gas: a junky main room with an old stove and fridge on one side, kitchen table, settee and a cheap lawn lounge on the other. Through a flimsy curtain are Dolores’s bedroom and the bathroom. The old Shell sign reads She l. Outside it’s dark and desolate Trucks that are still braving the snowstorm roar right by. The wind howls and it’s cold. It’s Canada.

We first meet Dolores in the kitchen: plaid shirt, skinny jeans and pigtails. It’s hard to say at first whether she’s thirteen (and all there) or older (and not quite all there). Katey Hoffman, who graduated just last month from Studio 58, plays Dolores and it’s a beautiful performance: shy and nervous, her Dolores is positively foal-like with her shy, darting glances, quick gestures and jittery behaviour.

Dolores’s nervousness is soon understood when Floyd, her father, comes in. If you want creepy, you hire Patrick Keating. In mechanics’ overalls, Floyd is clearly cock of the walk in this strange two-person household. Dolores jumps to please him every time he makes a move. He drinks beer, she makes him a sandwich.

Floyd, however, isn’t alone when he comes in. He has just rescued Stephen, a travelling jewellery and perfume salesman, who hunkered down in the storm and left his car running on the side of the road while the blizzard howled around him. Carbon monoxide has rendered him unconscious. Cochrane, as Stephen, is decent, caring, and reasonable. And what a predicament he soon finds himself in.

Predicament? When Floyd finishes dragging half-frozen, unconscious Stephen into the house, he says, slyly, to Dolores, “If you bring him around, you can keep him. Hope he suits you. Happy Birthday” – her sixteenth. Eeeuw. And he leaves.

From this point Cold Comfort is much less funny and much more menacing.

I love this kind of play: one that starts off pretending to be comedy but turns nasty and even sad. It’s like adding sugar to your coffee only to discover you dumped in salt. Or dipping into what you thought was hot soup only to find it’s vichyssoise. It’s being caught off-guard that I find so unnerving and exciting.

Directed by Kevin Bennett whose Hamlet and King Lear for Honest Fishmongers were so wonderfully imaginative, Cold Comfort is a play that really grabs you. The performances are great. The language is rough; the situation, rougher. “Canadian Gothic,” says Keating. It turns all the travelling salesman jokes inside out and should serve as a cautionary tale to all peddlers on their way to Calgary in the middle of winter.

Should you need further enticement, it’s $15 at the door. Mmm, good YOGURT.