Theater review: High-strung comedy ‘Ripcord’ malfunctions at Aurora


You’ve probably seen it all before, or at least might feel like you have: Two strong-willed little old ladies, both of them set in their own ways, become mismatched roommates at a modest senior-living facility; because Marilyn’s more chatty and free-spirited, while Abby’s more cynical and reserved, they quickly clash.

If that sounds like some utterly routine pitch for yet another formulaic TV sitcom, well, David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Ripcord” plays out like one, too — yes, shockingly, the same David Lindsay-Abaire who wrote “Rabbit Hole” and “Good People,” among other better things.

The broad and implausible comedy hangs on a ridiculous wager the women make. If Abby can cut through Marilyn’s sunny demeanor and make her angry, then Abby gets the room to herself. If Marilyn can get Abby to let down her guard and make her scared, then Marilyn claims the bed by the window.

Each woman resorts to increasingly drastic measures to win the silly bet. But as the “pranks” turn more extreme and far-fetched, the less funny and serviceable the play is. Abby digs up the police records of Marilyn’s late husband, and posts them around their complex. Marilyn tries to scare Abby by staging an armed mugging, or by drugging her and taking her skydiving.

To be fair, that scene, which closes the show’s first act, is definitely not like anything you’ve ever seen on stage before (outside of Serenbe’s “Miss Saigon,” perhaps). In director Jaclyn Hofmann’s Aurora Theatre production, game co-stars Donna Biscoe (as Abby) and Jill Jane Clements (as Marilyn) deploy actual parachutes and simulate floating through the air — sharing a rare moment of calm to impart a message about pulling the ripcord of life, slowing yourself down, and enjoying the view while you can.

Otherwise, most of the comedy is far too loud, figuratively as well as literally. The characters bicker and banter with such audible gusto, Hofmann’s need to equip her six-member cast with body mics is profoundly baffling. (The rest of the ensemble includes Russell Alexander II as an affable orderly, Megan Rose and Jacob York as Marilyn’s supportive daughter and son-in-law, and Seun Soyemi as Abby’s estranged son.)

Theatergoers who’ve seen enough of their work over the years will know how good Biscoe and Clements can be in better-written plays and roles — and how neither of their performances here is exactly very fresh or out of the ordinary for them. The shoddy material is what it is, but how much more interesting could it have been, had Hofmann at least tried to do something original and different with it, to cast the veteran actresses against type, for a change, to let Biscoe take a crack at playing the ebullient extrovert and Clements try her hand at the stuck-up stoic?

They’ve basically been here and done this before. And so have we.

THEATER REVIEW

“Ripcord”

Through June 3. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; 10 a.m. Tuesday (May 22 only). $20-$55. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222, auroratheatre.com.

Bottom line: Exasperating.

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