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Ripcord - Elizabeth Ahlfors

MTC at New York City Center - Stage I 
131 -West 55nd Street 
Previews: Sept. 29, 2015.  Opened: October 20, 2015. Closing: December 6,  2015
Running Time: 2 hours. One intermission.

In David Lindsay-Abaire's charming play, Ripcord, Marylouise Burke and Holland Taylor are two engaging talents who bring their depth and humor to the "odd couple" of the Bristol Place Assisted Living Facility for Seniors.   Ripcord, in its world premiere by the Manhattan Theater Club, is directed by David Hyde Pierce with the fast-moving pace of a well-done sitcom.  The play is an out-and-out crowd-pleaser, providing plenty of laughs over a somber undercurrent.

Taylor and Burke play two widows, vastly opposite, assigned to share the same room.  Taylor plays Abby, a dogmatic former schoolteacher who is snappy, bitter and aloof.  She would prefer to have a private room but can't afford it.  She has been in this double room for several years and likes the bed by the window where she can care for her plants.  Unflappable, she insists that there is nothing she is afraid of, even death, at one point commenting "I would welcome it"
Marylouise Burke (Fuddy Meers by Lindsay-Abaire) is tailor-made for dizzy, perky Marilyn, dashing about, chatting incessantly, and eager to be friends with Abby, just as she is with everyone in the facility.  She insists nothing makes her angry. “It always leads to an ugly place, and I don’t care for ugly places.”  Everyone likes Marilyn.  Everyone but Abby.
What Marilyn wants most though is the bed by the window, so she bets Abby she can scare her before Abby makes her angry.  If Marilyn wins, Abby must relinquish her bed by the window.  Conversely, if Abby wins, Marilyn will move to another room recently vacated after a resident's death.  Abby comments, "It's too bad she's dead, but silver linings, right?"

Nate Miller plays Scotty, a health aide and aspiring actor who is frustrated with Abby's remote behavior and has formed a bond with Marilyn.  To help her with the bet, Scotty takes the two women to a haunted house and later helps Marilyn persuade Abby to go on a parachute jump.  (The title, Ripcord, refers to the cord that is pulled to open a parachute from its pack.)  Whatever fear Abby feels is well hidden.  

Abby begins her own revenge with small steps and sharp stabs, like filling in all the answers in Marilyn's favorite Sudoku book.  Gradually, schemes from each gets more biting, closer to the mark, and further from any boundaries.  

Meanwhile, there are plenty of laughs, helped by Colleen and Derek Marilyn's daughter and son-in-law, played by Rachel Dratch and Daoud Heidami who are frequent visitors.  Abby has a son, Benjamin, who has never visited but suddenly he shows up.  Marilyn is surprised but not welcoming, still suspicious of his claims to be drug-free.  Played by Glenn Fitzgerald,  Benjamin insists he is working and has a girlfriend.  He shows her something that might change her mind toward him.  Taylor (Ann) plays his implacable mother with the barest trace of vulnerability.  

David Hyde-Pierce again proves his métier as director.  His sharp leadership never lags and the wacky action flows naturally from the characters and Lindsay-Abaire's plot, which has enough charm, clever twists and laughs to give these fine actresses stretching room.  Hovering underneath is always the loneliness, stress and fears of seniors but the focus quickly flashes back to comedy.  

The opening scene sets the tone beautifully, introduces a portrait of the two incompatible women.  Enhanced by Peter Kaczorowski's lighting, Alexander Dodge designed quite an pretty room with two double beds, a table and two chairs and an armchair for Abby.  Abby's bed is neatly made, the shelves above it hold a few books and a painting.  Marilyn's side of the room shows her unmade bed.  Family photos and her grandson's painting crowd her shelves.  Jennifer von Mayrhauser dresses both women with distinct individuality, Abby in blouse, sweater and skirt with sensible shoes, Abby like an aging flower child.  

Talent trumps lightweight and while the ending is predictable, Ripcord shows triple threats in writing, directing and acting.

This review also appears in TotalTheater.