REVIEW: Threshold Rep's 'Ripcord' shines when showcasing the twisted talents of its leading ladies 

Age is just a number

click to enlarge Abby and Marilyn butt heads in this tale of retirement home antics. - PROVIDED
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  • Abby and Marilyn butt heads in this tale of retirement home antics.
What happens when two women in a retirement home chuck their proverbial bingo cards for a far more treacherous gamble? In Ripcord, which is now playing at Threshold Repertory Theatre, the blood sport that follows is often outlandish, sometimes craven — and frequently very funny.

Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole), Ripcord first premiered at the Manhattan Theater Club in 2015. It now comes to Threshold by way of a giddy and game new production directed by Mary Cimino, kicking off the company’s 2017-18 season on an agreeably disagreeable (or is it disagreeably agreeable?) and decidedly droll note.

As habitués of Bristol Place Senior Living Facility, Abby and Marilyn might not be the likeliest candidates to engage in mortal combat. However, when it comes to psychological warfare, each possesses some menacingly mad skills. Never mind the aches and ailments of decades of living. These two are willing and able to home in on the other’s weak spots — and leverage those vulnerabilities to disgraceful, self-serving end. After all, prime real estate is in play here.

Abby (Linda Esposito), who is famously frosty around the facility’s halls, decides she wants to be rid of her most recent roommate, the perky Marilyn (Lorilyn Harper). And, she’s up for banishing her by whatever means necessary. That way, she can lay sole claim to their shared sun-filled, second-floor room (a well-appointed, comfy set with twin everything and pillows aplenty to plump, thanks to the stylings of artistic director Jay Danner).

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Abby, however, has met her match in the latest of an ongoing series of unfortunate co-dwellers. Marilyn, a longtime glutton for domestic punishment, just can’t quit her. After all, Abby bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn’s deceased husband, at least in temperament. When the two make a bet on who will be the first to get under the skin of the other, hell hath no funnier fury.

It’s an age-old comic construct — the mismatched duo that serves as the yin and yang of the human experience. Think Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Didi and Gogo. Felix and Oscar. In this case, the dichotomy of character centers on whether life’s vicissitudes have rendered her a victim or viper, with neither aspect being wholly desirable. And, with both women long ago time-sealed into a standard operating procedure, beating the other at her tried-and-true game offers a compelling satiric premise.

The setup plays out in increasingly merciless schemes of getting the other’s goat. Spanning most of the first act, that setup can feel a bit arthritic, an issue more to do with the playwriting than the performances. At the risk of being prescriptive, an energizing fix might be the infusion of more physical comedy. It’s clearly part of the work’s makeup, with some scenes almost entirely driven by the inherent humor in the human body — flopping, flailing, futzing about. It is in those moments that the show is most antic, unfettered — and comically successful. Similarly, tightening the pacing could add more than detract.

High-flying and at times hilarious, the second act compensates for the play’s initial creaks — while also allowing the actors to make full use of their comedic talents. Taciturn and intentionally unlikable, Esposito’s Abby offers plenty of reasons to root for her roomie in their battle royal. And, while Abby is that crabby customer you love to hate, Harper gives us a Marilyn who bounds through the room with a persistent cheer that you hate to love.
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The gruesome twosome finds a saintly referee in their orderly, Scotty, played by Orrie Kerrison with an easy equanimity in the face of the escalating shenanigans. And more are on the way thanks to an assist from Marilyn’s daughter Colleen, played with terrific timing and quirky verve by Sam Andrews, as well as Colleen’s beleaguered, anxious husband Derek (the twitchily comic Jay Danner). As the ensemble comes together in this take-no-prisoners proposition, some are emboldened, while others are praying for it to be over. Jokes aside, life for this lot is a frightening affair — likened at one point to a freefall to certain death.

And, while Ripcord puts forth the promise of teeth, the play, by virtue of its composition and payoff, delivers far less bite than it could, particularly considering the twisted talents of its scheming leading ladies. However, a bit of pablum withstanding, Ripcord succeeds at serving up ample to chew on — including the undercutting of stereotypical notions of aging. When it gets up and going, Ripcord does so to affable and at times uproarious ends.



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