Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Abby has lived at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility in a New Jersey suburb for five years. Her bed is beside the window with a sunny view of the park and a windowsill for her plotted plants. Her plants are the only thing Abby shows any inclination to care for. She is extremely reclusive, keeps her past well-guarded, with no interest in making friends or joining in the many activities Bristol Place offers. You might see her picture in the dictionary next to the word "misanthrope." Abby can't afford single quarters, but over the years has been able to persuade management to reassign anyone placed in her room. However, new roommate Marilyn poses a challenge.
Marilyn and Abby are polar opposites. After three weeks at Bristol Place, Marilyn has become friends with everyone there, including the facility manager. Their nursing aide Scotty is kind to them both, but visibly suffers Abby's brittle sarcasm and pessimism, while he lights up when Marilyn enters the room. Abby dresses tastefully, in outfits one might find in a J. Jill catalog, with her hair primly coifed. Marilyn leans more to the gaudy, in bright, loose-fitting clothes, and her hair lacks discipline. Worst of all for Abby, Marilyn talks non-stop, pouring out her life story, goading Abby to join her in walking group and other activities, and keeping Abby from focusing on the only thing she wants to do, which is read.
Abby tries hard to make Marilyn miserable enough to request a transfer, to no avail, even when another room opens up. Marilyn likes their sunny viewthough she admits she would rather have the bed by the window to enjoy it more easily, As for Abby's miscreant abuse, Marilyn laughs it off, saying it reminds her of her late husband and that she is has learned to laugh it off. She assures Abby, nothing Abby can do will make her angry. Abby says that nothing scares her, leading Marilyn to propose a bet. If Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn will move out, but if Marilyn can make Abby scared first, Marilyn staysand gets the bed by the window. Abby takes the bait. For the remainder of the play, each woman does her best to win the bet.
This gives Lindsay-Abaire, who writes genuinely funny dialog, a chance to devise clever plot twists, comical scenes, and laugh lines that could hold their own against a classic "I Love Lucy" episode. When it's time to put on the brakes, he shifts from the absurdly hysterical plot to a heartfelt scene of facing demons, and wraps the play up with an ending that feels both consistent and logical.
Ripcord premiered in 2015 at Manhattan Theatre Club, who commissioned the work. Lindsay-Abaire's two most acclaimed playsthe Pulitzer Prize winning Rabbit Hole and the popular Good Peopledisplay his talent for writing funny lines, but are serious plays that address very real and difficulty aspects of modern life. However, he first became known for less weighty affairs, like his 1999 break-out play, Fuddy Meers and 2001's Wonders of the World. Ripcord is more like his earlier works: funny, richly human, but with absurd plotting that puts them at a remove from real life.
With that in mind, Ripcord is an agreeable way to find yourself laughing heartily while you pass a couple of hours, admiring director Tom Stolz' crisply paced direction that honors the innate intelligence of Lindsay-Abaire's writing and the two excellent lead performances.
Alison Edwards holds herself stiffly erect as Abby, depicting the woman's keen intelligence which has been bitterly twisted into a form of self-defense, batting out witty but mean with the ease of turning a page on her Kindle. She typically stays focused on those pages as she condescends to respond to anyone vulgar enough to breach her solitude. Mary Alette Davis is a delight as she delivers Marilyn's unquenchable optimism and high spirits, convincing us that her intent is not to tolerate Abby, but to find a way to genuinely enjoy her company. The two make a wonderfully intrepid pair in the course of laying out or responding to their various gambits, playing against each other with great comic chemistry.
Ernest Briggs is winning as the compassionate and lovable nursing aide and aspiring actor Scotty. Heidi Fellner is a delight as Marilyn's daughter Colleen, who goes whole hog as a co-conspirator in her mom's bet, but later shows genuine concern when she begins to fear for her mother's welfare. Joe Allen and Brian Pekol both do fine work as other family members drawn into the shenanigans.
This was my first time at the Ives Auditorium, a handsome performance space on the grounds of the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center in Bloomington. It is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth finding. The deep stage allows Michael Hoover's well-conceived set piece of Abby and Marilyn's room to slide back when scenes call for other locations. Naomi Cranston Haag did the costumes, and Brian Pekol the lighting and sound design, all of which work in support of this sturdy production.
I do have a quibble with the play. Both Marilyn and Abby are fully ambulatory, have full use of their senses, are of sound (if not always pleasing) mind, and able to tend to their own personal care. Why in the world are they living in a single room serviced by a nursing aide, instead of in a senior living facility designed for active adults, which they are? Perhaps Lindsay-Abaire is not familiar with the options for those 55 and up, but it feels like he rather stumbled in finding a device for throwing these two women together while keeping them hale and hearty enough to engage in the pranks that ensue.
If you are willing to suspend concerns over the premise and just go with it, Ripcord will be very entertaining. It does not try to go deeply into the issue of eldercare or any other issues, but is a winning "odd couple" kind of play that succeeds by virtue of Lindsay-Abaire's darkly funny humor delivered by a pair of ace actors in a production guided by a firm hand. By the way, there is a reason Lindsay-Abaire named the play Ripcord, which is best I not reveal, so if you are burning with curiosity, you have one more reason to drive to Bloomington.
Sidekick Theatre's Ripcord runs through November 21, 2019, at The Ives Auditorium, Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center, 11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington MN. Tickets are $27.00 -$38.00. For tickets and information, visit sidekicktheatre.com or call 612-440-7529
Playwright: David Lindsay-Abaire; Director: Tim Stolz; Scenic Design: Michael Hoover; Costume Design: Naomi Cranston Haag; Lighting and Sound Design: Brian Pekol; Stage Manager: Colin Williams.
Cast: Joe Allen (Benjamin/Lewis/Clown), Ernest Briggs (Scotty), Mary Alette Davis (Marilyn Dunne), Alison Edwards (Abby Binder), Heidi Fellner (Colleen/Woman in White), Brian Pekol (Derek/Zombie Butler/Masked Man).