BWW Review: RIPCORD: Nancy and Annie's Excellent Adventure
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, Directed by Jessica Stone; Choreographer, Misha Shields; Scenic Design, Tobin Ost; Costume Design, Gabriel Berry; Lighting Design, David Weiner; Sound Design & Original Music, Mark Bennett; Projection Design, Lucy Mackinnon; Production Stage Manager, Emily F. McMullen; Stage Manager, Kevin Schlagle
Performances extended through July 2 by Huntington Theatre Company at Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org
Laughs in abundance are in free fall in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire's Ripcord, a bejeweled vehicle for a pair of women of a certain age that is polished to a shine by the brilliant performances of Nancy E. Carroll and Annie Golden. Under the brisk, breezy direction of Jessica Stone (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), these two pros turn life in an assisted living facility into Abby and Marilyn's excellent adventure. As roommates who are anything but soulmates, they engage in a protractEd Battle of wits to win a bet for supremacy over their little corner of a shrinking world, and the only rule is to take no prisoners.
Ripcord is a comedy with sharp edges that hides some important messages under layers of personalities, pranks, and absurdities. Age is only a number and, just because you're residing in the home that may be your last, it doesn't mean you have to stop living. Abby (Carroll) and Marilyn (Golden) have diametrically opposing viewpoints on what that looks like, but neither of these strong-willed women is checking out any time soon. In fact, defending their respective outlooks and competing against each other enlivens them and, who knows, may extend their lease on life more than doing sudoku puzzles ever could.
Lindsay-Abaire is a master of outrageous comedy, seasoned with just the right amount of viciousness to raise your eyebrows and force you to laugh in spite of your better angels. The premise is that cantankerous Abby doesn't want to share her room, or else wants a mute co-habitant. Marilyn likes the living quarters, but would love to have the bed by the window, and she suggests a bet to resolve the conundrum. If she can scare the tough-as-nails Abby, Marilyn gets the bed with the view. However, if Abby can make the unflappable Marilyn mad, the latter will vacate the premises. Carroll is totally in her element as a sardonic character with a deadpan delivery (does anyone do it better?). Her disdain for her roommate's cheery, chatterbox qualities oozes from every pore and permeates their shared accommodations like a noxious gas. However, even that is not enough to shut down Marilyn's persistent perkiness.
At the start, the challenge is fun and games, but the stakes are raised when Marilyn recruits her daughter Colleen (Laura Latreille) and son-in-law Derek (Richard Prioleau) to take Abby on an excursion that is way out of her comfort zone. Back and forth the two combatants go, but Abby's pranks never quite rise to the level of Marilyn's. You might say she brings a knife to a gun fight and is increasingly frustrated by her inability to get rid of her nemesis. When the congenial aide Scotty (Ugo Chukwu) gets wind of their contest and tries to intervene, Marilyn shows a flash of her steely side and stands up to him, forcing him to back off. After that, the gloves come off (if they were ever on), lines get crossed, and Marilyn's gritty gambit blindsides Abby, rubbing her raw.
The tone of the play shifts in accord with the nature of a major reveal, and both women feel the impact on their already-tenuous relationship. The playwright plots a satisfying path to a well-earned conclusion, but it relies on the skills of Carroll and Golden to authentically pull it off. After the rapid-fire humor and their easy delivery of jokes and zingers, they have the ability to dig deep to show us who Abby and Marilyn are when stripped of their armor. Chukwu gives a strong performance as the breath of fresh air at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility. He treats everyone with respect and affection, but doesn't hesitate to call Abby on her negative behavior. Latreille and Prioleau seem to be having fun, whether loyally supporting Marilyn's initiatives or suddenly deciding they've gone too far. Eric T. Miller is solid in multiple roles, especially when he faces off with Abby as an unexpected visitor.
Scenic designer Tobin Ost gives Annie and Marilyn a nice, spacious double room with an adjacent bathroom, that is probably superior to many a nursing home. The genius of his design is shown when the rear walls slide apart to reveal other settings, including several different rooms in a Halloween haunted house, the cabin of an airplane, and the wild, blue yonder as backdrop for a parachute jump (with an assist from projection designer Lucy Mackinnon). Lighting design by David Weiner subtly reflects mood and different times of day, and Gabriel Berry's costume design accentuates the contrast in the personalities of Abby and Marilyn. Mark Bennett provides a variety of ambient sounds around the facility and noises peculiar to a haunted house, but his greatest contribution is original music that entertains (along with some unexpected moves choreographed by Misha Shields)) during scene changes.
Ripcord offers a multitude of delights, many of which cannot be mentioned in order to maintain the joy of surprise. Stone modulates the light and dark aspects of the play with just the right touch, and navigates the twists and turns with a steady hand. Lindsay-Abaire packs his parachute with perfection, making sure that pulling the cord releases an abundance of laughs, life, and love. Enjoy the ride!