Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Ross Valley Players
Review by Patrick Thomas

Bau Tran and and Tori Truss
Photo by Robin Jackson
David Lindsay-Abaire is one the most thrilling and imaginative playwrights working today. Many of his earlier plays were odd, almost absurd works that, like those of Ionesco or Beckett, still somehow manage to address serious issues. In Fuddy Meers, a woman with a rare form of amnesia collaborates with her mother (with an aphasia that encodes her speech into odd phrasings and word orders—think Yoda on ketamine) to discover the dark past her amnesia has been hiding from her. His Kimberly Akimbo is the story of a lonely teenage girl trapped in an elderly woman's body because of progeria, a rare condition that rapidly accelerates the aging process. His later works, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole and the Tony-winning Good People, tend to be more conventionally constructed, with more ordinary characters facing more ordinary problems.

Ripcord, Lindsay-Abaire's most recent play (first produced in 2015), leans toward the conventional, but with healthy dollops of weirdness plopped on top, making it a bit of a mélange of his approach to drama.

At its heart, Ripcord is almost a knockoff of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, set not in a Manhattan apartment but an assisted living facility. Abby (Tori Truss) is a crusty loner who has driven away every roommate the staff at the home has assigned her. She kvetches about almost everything, and with a "who cares what anyone thinks" attitude that often accompanies old age, holds back nothing. When Scotty (Bau Tran), an aide at the home, introduces Abby to new roommate Marilyn (Pamela Hollings) it's not long at all before Abby tells her "I don't like you and I want you to go." When Marilyn shows Abby a painting her grandson made of a fire truck, Abby tells her it "looks like a pap smear."

However, like Ted Lasso (of the wildly-popular and highly-praised show on Apple TV), Marilyn has a strain of optimism as bulletproof as a tank wrapped in Kevlar and dipped in reinforced concrete. None of Abby's snarkiness or cruelties seem to penetrate Marilyn's sunny nature.

But when Abby insists nothing scares her, and Marilyn claims nothing makes her angry, the two enter into a bet: if Marilyn can scare Abby, Marilyn gets Abby's bed, which is by a window with a lovely view; if Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn will have to switch rooms. This conflict drives the plot forward, as each woman tries increasingly desperate attempts to frighten or anger the other. Lindsay-Abaire keeps raising the stakes with these practical "jokes" until they turn sadistic and cruel—yet somehow manages by the end of the play to create a tentative reconciliation, not simply between Abby and Marilyn, but between Abby and the wider world from which she has shut herself off.

Unfortunately, the Ross Valley Players cast has a hard time finding even a tenuous balance between the comic and tragic elements of Ripcord. Their tone feels off-kilter through most of the first act, and while they seem to find their feet more in the second, more interesting act, they fail to adequately embody either the rage or the hope that Lindsay-Abaire has embedded in his characters. There's a scene in the first act set inside a haunted house that is supposed to look amateurish and silly, but it never achieves that purpose, in part because it's trapped within a production with too many elements that are also amateurish.

Ripcord runs through October 10, 2021, at the Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $30 general admission ($25 on Thursdays), and $15 for those under 19. For tickets and information, call 415-456-9555 or visit