Wednesday, November 04, 2015


Last night, the cast of Ripcord, David Lindsay-Abaire's play at MTC, seemed a little off. Maybe it had been a rough weekend, or someone got accidentally plastered during the half-hour call, or was working with a fever or an injury or something. For whatever reason, lines were flubbed and focus occasionally seemed to wane. But while I would have loved to see the cast at their very best, the occasional missteps didn't matter in the long run: Ripcord is hi-freaking-larious. 

Off night or not, the cast is filled with pros, who are briskly directed by David Hyde-Pierce (yeah, the actor, proving here that he is as droll and funny behind the scenes as he is in front of the camera). And while the show is predictable in some ways, it's genuinely surprising and inventive in others.

Ripcord seems, at first glance, reminiscent of an Odd Couple episode, but with women in a nursing home instead of dudes in an apartment. Abby (Holland Taylor), the tidy, misanthropic one, has been in the home a lot longer. She is pissed off about a lot of things, most immediately that after years alone in a double room, she's gotten stuck with a new roommate, the peppy and messy Marilyn (Marylouise Burke). Making matters worse is that Marilyn won't shut the hell up, is perpetually cheery, and has no desire to switch rooms. During conversations between the two women that could easily have been far more contrived than Lindsay-Abaire and these seasoned actors make it, we learn that Abby doesn't frighten easily if at all, and that Marilyn no longer believes in getting angry, about anything, ever. A bet results from these disclosures: If Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn will move out. Conversely, if Marilyn can scare Abby, she'll get to stay...and win the bed by the window. What ensues is, of course, much wackiness: a series of increasingly involved and farfetched pranks that eventually involve family members and the nursing home staff.    

It's clear from the outset that Abby has met her match with Marilyn, and no big shock that both women genuinely begin to enjoy the baroque antics that ensue; their bet quickly becomes less important than the inventiveness of each elaborate sting. It's also no surprise that the women will not only eventually become dear friends, but will also open up to one another about past hurts, regrets, and lingering disappointments.

But the obvious aspects of the show never get in the way of its surprises and pleasures: the audience is allowed in on the jokes from the outset, and the cast plays for belly laughs. There are a whole lot of them: the series of pranks allows for some weird and hilarious settings (a very amateur haunted house, an airplane) and scenarios (good lord, the scenes in act two involving Marylouise Burke in the bathroom and Holland Taylor on the park bench!). As outside parties get involved, quirky and endlessly entertaining supporting characters appear, including Marilyn's blithely S&M-loving daughter and son-in-law (Rachel Dratch and Daoud Heidami); Scotty, the long-suffering nursing home attendant (Nate Miller); and a demented clown and enthusiastic skydiving instructor (the always weirdly wonderful Glenn Fitzgerald, who later appears as the more subdued, estranged son of Abby).

Everyone in Ripcord--not just Abby and Marilyn--is actively seeking ways to live their lives happily, healthily, and fully. The fact that the show allows its main characters--two old women who are in no way the doddering biddies they might let themselves become--to bring out the best in one another through creative, intelligent, active ways is enormously refreshing. Everyone has an off night; I'm glad the one the cast seemed to be having last night didn't ruin their fun--or ours.

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