Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Stray Dog Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent reviews of Steel Magnolias and Woman in Mind

Matt Anderson, Victor Mendez, Jan Mantovani,
and Annie Bayer

Photo by John Lamb
Like anybody else, there are times when I don't really feel like going to the theatre. But this time, I ended up loving Ripcord at Stray Dog Theatre in St. Louis, for all the usual reasons. It is, after all, a comedy by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. The bad news is that afterward I had to run four blocks home in the rain, because this is apparently another summer of storm-related theatre disasters, at least for me. But the show was a delightful two hours of entertainment (with a 10 minute intermission). And theatre this good probably is the cheapest high that money can buy.

Company founder Gary F. Bell directs, expertly juggling the light and the dark on stage, no matter what else I say. And, fortunately, he seems to have a gift for finding magical actresses. The naturalistic Jan Mantovani steals the show as Marilyn, an effervescent senior at a nursing home, a cute blonde version of Ruth Gordon, perhaps by way of Diane Keaton. (Ms. Mantovani and I were both in a show together, but shared only one brief moment on stage, twenty years ago.) Here she shares a room at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility with Abby, the perfectly mismatched Odd Couple roommate, played with steely reserve by the immaculate Annie Bayer. Abby wants the room to herself, so the pair embark upon a wager to determine whether or not Marilyn will be forced out.

Ripcord debuted Off-Broadway in 2015 at Manhattan Theatre Club, with a limited engagement of six weeks. It instantly picks up its rhythm in this Stray Dog production, though I suppose I understand if you say it seems as if Mr. Lindsay-Abaire were just checking off the boxes from a plot chart when he wrote it: a dash of weirdness; an absurd level of almost nightmarish glee (because one of them has dubiously completed her pursuit of happiness); then another dash of weirdness. And add in one or more crazed intruders to taste. His play Fuddy Meers had all of that, though in a more organic way.

In any case, they do it all perfectly, and it is still the product of a great mind. The acting and direction (and costumes by Colleen Michelson) are flawless. And the gamesmanship in the story inevitably goes horribly awry, as we are inexorably pulled along. Near the end of Act One, it suddenly occurred to me: "if the nice one is gambling to truly scare the mean one and the mean one is trying hard to win a bet by enraging the happy one, then this must all end in a violent murder!"

But Lindsay-Abaire neatly avoids this possibility with a set of amusing and alarming pranks between two women who should know better, but who also truthfully can't avoid being naturalistically fabulous in the process. On the one hand, it's David Lindsay-Abaire doing a rote impression of David Lindsay-Abaire. But on the other, even that's a lot better than just about anyone else. And it is unexpectedly uplifting.

That's especially so with this cast, which includes the beloved actress and erstwhile Hot City Theatre producer Donna Parrone as Marilyn's daughter Colleen; she is delightful (Hot City was one of the best things about the nineties and also where I saw Fuddy Meers decades ago!). The unexpected brilliance of Ripcord comes alive in an on-stage skydiving scene, which easily takes us up to the heavens, though it's very nicely staged out on simple black boxes on wheels.

Jeremy Goldmeier plays several roles, including the parachute jump instructor. As another character, Benjamin, he gets psychologically destroyed before our very eyes near the end. In a great show, there's always something ghastly that you weren't expecting. In a long list of haunted house scenes, the relationship between Mr. Goldmeier's Benjamin and Ms. Bayer's Abby becomes the final haunted house.

But Mr. Goldmeier is equally funny and delightful as a scary clown in the first one of those Halloween scenes, or at whatever else is required. He very smartly validates the formula, making a treasure out of every moment. It's very unfair nowadays–I just go in expecting him to be great. And Ripcord allows for a style a very smart actor can latch onto with ease, though it also shows him off terrifically. Victor Mendez is genuinely great as nursing home caretaker Scotty (and as a horrifying man in an electric chair in that first haunted house scene).

Matt Anderson is Derek, the husband of Colleen (Ms. Parrone), and they both get a fine naughty spousal laugh event in that same scene. Stepping back, Matt Anderson suddenly feels to me like the one missing piece in the big puzzle of all my calculations about theatre in St. Louis. Now that he's on stage, I feel we may begin our work at last. (That doesn't mean you shouldn't try out if you're new, of course you should!)

We have formulas for a reason–they can work. And the whole thing just ferociously jumps off the stage in this perfect revival, devouring us with a defining sense of modern comedy.

Ripcord runs through June 22, 2024, at Stray Dog Theatre, Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue, St. Louis. For tickets and information, please visit

Cast (in order of appearance):
Abby Binder: Annie Bayer
Scotty: Victor Mendez
Marilyn Dunn: Jan Mantovani
Colleen: Donna Parrone
Derek: Matt Anderson
Lewis/Benjamin: Jeremy Goldmeier

Production Staff:
Director: Gary F. Bell
Stage Manager: Justin Been
Assistant Stage Manager: Jude Hagene
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Costume Designer: Colleen Michelson
Social Media Manager: Sarah Gene Dowling
Sound Designer: Justin Been