The cast at the Playhouse does an excellent job of getting as much as possible out of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord; but he hasn’t given them much worth their time and effort.
This play looks more like an idea for a situation comedy than something equal to his best loony and/or serious scripts. Almost as if he dashed this off without much thought. It does have potential and a few solid laughs. One serious scene in the second act, however, shows promise and the actors give it sincere depth.
With a premise concerning two residents of a senior living facility, much could be explored about the nature of life in such a place, the reasons and deepest feelings about having to be there in the twilight of their years. Instead, Lindsay-Abaire comes up with shallowness. One-dimensional Marilyn is ceaselessly jolly and full of vitality. Her roommate Abby is mostly edgy and nasty. Yes, people in such a situation could be like that. But Lindsay-Abaire goes nowhere interesting or original from there.
His basic premise is to have both women bet about how each can provoke the other in a major way. Marilyn to seriously frighten Abby. Abby to make Marilyn seriously angry. And the winner of this insignificant contest gets her will: for Abby it’s having Marilyn move out. For Marilyn it’s having Abby’s bed next to a big window with an outside view. And? So?
Lindsay-Abaire also inserts two scenes where virtually nothing comic occurs, although they could go somewhere more than this. They seem gratuitous. One scene involves the two women visiting a neighborhood haunted house at Halloween. The other has them tandem skydiving where principally everyone shouts a lot.
Scenic designer Janet Heath hasn’t done the playwright or director Kimberly Faith Hickman any favors. Heath uses the entire stage to represent the women’s living space. Consequently, for those two above scenes and one in a park, action stops while a large stage crew moves the furniture and shifts the sparsely suggested walls to accommodate the change. Had Heath split the stage and put the women’s room on just one side, much clumsiness could easily have been avoided. Further, Heath clearly had to cut down on the furniture to expedite the changes. Making it look as if these residents have no bureaus, no shelves and almost nowhere to sit; Marilyn has only her bed. If you ever think you may end up in such a home, pray that you don’t get into a room like this. A better design for only one side of the stage would have made a smaller space look more lived-in as well as more claustrophobic, which would certainly irritate already-fractious Abby. Plus Heath sets up a blurred, unreal projection for the prized tree-view Marilyn covets, as if she needs her eyes examined. As for the walls, Heath may be trying to make them look like a boxing ring, but it’s an idea without foundation. The women never slug it out. Abby does land verbal blows but Marilyn never hits back; she just smiles and takes it.
Judy Radcliffe stays ceaselessly sweet and charming as Marilyn. Charleen Willoughby’s convincing take on Abby does not appear to be all that aggressive, as if Faith Hickman wanted to tone down nastiness, diminishing the possibility for laughs at outrageous comments. Abby does lob a few expletives. That got some shocked reaction amid the opening night audience, meaning they hadn’t been sufficiently primed for the darker side of this relationship.
Willoughby’s talent is thoroughly evident in a serious scene in the second act when Abby is confronted with her much-estranged son Benjamin, played by Kevin Goshorn. He too makes that work. And Playhouse debuting Sahil Khullar gives an excellent performance as genial and bright Scotty, an attendant who regularly assists Abby and Marilyn.
Despite the sometimes-funny lines, the opening night audience rarely laughed heartily. Nonetheless, lots of folks stood and cheered at the end.
Lindsay-Abaire won a Pulitzer for dark and disturbing Rabbit Hole for which he also got several Tony Award nominations. His first plays established him as a writer of bittersweet comedies in the Christopher Durang absurdist vein. Others successful scripts include Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo, book and lyrics for Shrek the Musical. He’s also been nominated for several other Tonys. None of this is mentioned in the program book, a distressing standard practice at the Playhouse for writers. Despite the flaws, there’d be no show without him.
Ripcord continues through February 11 at Hawks Mainstage Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Wednesday through Saturday 7:30 p.m. Sunday: 2 p.m.Tickets: $28-$36. http://www.omahaplayhouse.com/