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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
With two straightforward dramas under his belt — the Pulitzer Prize winning Rabbit Hole ( review) and Good People( review)— Lindsay-Abaire is once again in a fun mood. But his often absurdist funny business coalesces with darker tones and makes his characters moving as well as funny. The play's setting and situation are very much of our time and hit-home for MTC's subscribers.
Like Weller and Fonsia in the just opened revival of The Gin Game ( review ) Ripcord's two protagonists are residents in a home for senior citizens with limited means and less than perfect health. And like D.L. Coburn's characters, the story of Ripcord's Marilyn and Abby also revolves around a game, but a quite different one.
The women's game is more purposeful. It involves four other characters and plays out in various locations and situations that typify Lindsay-Abaire's penchant for quirky situations; to be specific, the game he's concocted does not involve a deck of cards but a bet for certain rights to the room Marilyn and Abby currently share at the Bristol Place Assisted Living Facility somewhere in New Jersey that could be anywhere USA.
The reason for the bet: Abby, a cantankerous and embittered by life loner, wants the room to herself. Since she can't afford a private room, anyone other than the relentlessly perky and talkative Marilyn would be preferable. Marilyn, on the other hand, doesn't mind sharing the room and tolerates Abby's grouchiness better than anyone else in the facility, but she would like the bed near the window — and she likes the idea of winning this bet.
And so the bet is on. The rules of the game: Abby wins if she can make the insistently upbeat Marilyn angry, Marilyn wins if she can disprove Abby's claim that she's past ever being scared.
As the latest production of The Gin Game still features two made-for each other actors at top of their game, so Ripcord also offers up two sublimely paired women. It's a take on the lives of older people by one of our best young playwrights. While it relies more on comfortably familiar fun than great depth, it does showcase his knack for oddball but believable characters and dazzling dialogue.
It's easy to see why Lindsay-Abaire wrote Ripcord for Mary Louise Bourke. The part is made to order for her idiosyncratic charm. With his odd-couple style roommate arrangement, the playwright has not only paved the way for some of Ms. Burke's over the top comic business, but has made Ripcord a two-star vehicle. Ms. Taylor is brilliant at making a look speak volumes. Taylor's Abby and Burke's Marilyn may not be ideal roommates, but these roles make for a match, or rather mismatch, made in heaven. The ultra cheery, eccentric whose pre-retirement life included raising several children and managing her husband sky diving business and the prim and former schoolteacher who's lost her taste not just for food but for life are heirs to the likes of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.
As already mentioned this is not an economical two-hander with a single set. Four other actors, all excellent, are on board to implement the women's bet-winning schemes and round out their stories. Nate Miller is most often on scene as Scotty, the residence's attendant and a part-time actor. Rachel Dratch and Daoud Heidami mainly play Marilyn's devoted children. Glenn Fitzgerald, usually a major player, is cast in three very small roles that include Abby's rarely mentioned son.
As for the scenery, Alexander Dodge's attractive bedroom in the senior residence is transformed into several surprises, one of which will explain the play's title. But enough said. Suffice it to say that Abby isn't above using some quite cruel tricks, while Marilyn's maneuvers tend to be far out, occasionally even dangerous, but always as geared to kindness as winning.
All this trickery does tend to come off a bit too much like a non-stop prank, with Burke and Taylor auditioning for a sitcom geared to senior audiences. And there's really no big surprise as to how things will turn out. Still, it's all lots of fun, and far be it from me to tell you whether Marilyn finally get angry or Abby gets scared and get her taste for food (and life) back.
As to whether these women can possibly become friends. . .mum's the word. But rest assured that David Hyde Pierce, who in recent years focused on directing rather than acting, makes sure that the pace never flags, during the episodes in the senior home's contested room, a spooky Halloween outing or a sky high adventure. Under Mr. Hyde Pierce's guidance, no matter how silly and wild things get, even the ditzy Marilyn retains a solid core.