November 4, 2015

"Ripcord" Opts for the Easy Way Out

David Lindsay-Abaire plays come in two flavors. They can be serious and thought-provoking dramas like Good People and his Pulitzer-Prize winning Rabbit Hole about parents surviving the death of a child. 

Or they can they can be quirky absurdist comedies like Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo, both of which put Lindsay-Abaire on the theatrical map back at the turn of this century. Ripcord, his latest play, now running at Manhattan Theatre Club's City Center Stage through Dec. 6, falls into the latter category.

Regular readers will know that my tastes run toward the former and so it will come as no surprise to them that while people all around me were chuckling at Lindsay-Abaire's tale of two elderly women engaged in a no-holds barred competition for a prime room in an upscale retirement home, I sat silently, with my mind wandering off to which leftovers I'd warm up when I got home after the show.

I can't blame the acting for my inattention cause it's terrific all-around. The roles of Abby, a grumpy retired school teacher who condescends to everyone around her; and Marilyn, the garrulous newcomer who starts off just wanting to be friends, seem tailor-made for the always-patrician Holland Taylor and the always-perky Marylouise Burke.

Both actresses look to be having a good time as their characters engage in a series of escalating pranks designed to drive each other out of the room they're uncomfortably sharing. And costumer designer Jennifer von Mayrhauser has fun with the character-defining outfits she's created for them: straight tweed skirts for Abby and floral muumuus for Marilyn.

But it's the pranks—including one in a haunted house and another in a skydiving plane—that draw the laughs and David Hyde Pierce has staged them with an intentional cheesiness that keeps the first act popping along. 

In time, though, the pranks become more sharp-edged, prompting revelations, reconciliations and a sentimental ending that makes Ripcord too saccharine for my palate.

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