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Actors pull "Ripcord"

Thursday Jun 22, 2017

Annie Golden and Nancy E. Carroll in area premiere of "Ripcord" by HuntingtonTheatre Company.(Courtesy Huntington Theatre Company)
Annie Golden and Nancy E. Carroll in area premiere of "Ripcord" by HuntingtonTheatre Company.(Courtesy Huntington Theatre Company)  

Ripcord, Huntington Theatre Company, Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through July 2.617-266-0800, 617-933-8600 or bostontheatrescene.com
Call "Ripcord" a cross between "The Golden Girls" and a female version of "The Odd Couple." Quite simply, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's 2015 Off-Broadway comedy focuses on two assisted living residence roommates as different as Dorothy and Rose in the former and Oscar and Felix in the latter. The Boston native has demonstrated a facility for witty hilarity in his 1999 comedy "Fuddy Meers and moving insight in his family-centered 2006 drama "Rabbi Hole." "Ripcord," now in a spirited area premiere by Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion, ultimately seems to straddle both stage terrains. While gifted actresses Nancy E. Carroll and Annie Golden prove delightful stage paratroopers, Lindsay-Abaire's diverting play ought to have made a more decisive touchdown.

"Ripcord" certainly provides both Carroll as Abby and Golden as Marilyn with singular opportunities to shine. Set in her ways, uncommonly reserved and sharp-tongued Abby prizes her bed near a window as if it were a family heirloom. At the same time, she relentlessly intimidates even-tempered, sociable and cheerful newcomer Marilyn in a determined effort to make their double room at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility in suburban New Jersey de facto private. Abby's declaration that the two are not a good match faces strong resistance from her extroverted roommate. Marilyn, in fact, had already dealt with a similar acerbic attitude on the part of her late husband.

Indomitable Abby now tries a different approach, in which she challenges Marilyn to a bet. If Abby angers Marilyn, her roommate will move to another room. Should the cheery newcomer succeed at scaring her ostensibly unflappable roommate, Abby will yield the bed near the window. Making the bet all the more challenging is the factor of family. Marilyn's visiting daughter Colleen and her husband Derek turn out to be a high energy asset. Marilyn claims to love a challenge, and her daughter calls the family "very competitive." Abby seems so sour at one point however that she pulls a picture made by Marilyn's grandson Caleb off the wall.

By contrast, Abby's son Benjamin seems reluctant to visit his mother. Playwright Lindsay-Abaire does explain that reluctance as well as Abby's feeling that she does not owe her once-addicted son any more. That feeling leads her to dump a plant he brings her in the basket. After Benjamin discloses some important information about his transformation as a man, Abby's feelings about him do change profoundly. If the revelations about Benjamin convince, a very different and happy surprise in the late going involving Marilyn and her family leaves this critic feeling that Lindsay-Abaire opted for a softer ending instead of what should have been a haunting cautionary one.

Easy resolution notwithstanding, Carroll and Golden make a luminous assisted living odd couple under Jessica Stone's crisp direction. Carroll captures Abby's tenacity and rich world-weariness without any suggestion of malice. Her verbal volleys with Golden have the style and fire of championship matches. For her part, Golden has all of Marilyn's heart and good nature without any cloying cuteness.

Laura Latreille has the right spunk as Colleen, and Richard Prioleau is properly grounded as Derek. Eric T. Miller finds Benjamin's earnestness as well as his vulnerability. Ugo Chukwu is a standout in support as resourceful and very likeable center employee Scotty.

Design values are equally remarkable. Tobin Ost smartly complements the differences between Abby and Marilyn in his well-detailed center set. Gabriel Berry's costumes reflect the characters' evolving respective personalities. David Weiner's nuanced lighting and Mark Bennett's expressive sound design bring distinction to the title-related skydiving sequence and a Halloween-centered scene.

Playwright Lindsay-Abaire knows a lot about diving into the stories of his characters as his "Rabbit Hole" and "Kimberly Akimbo" amply demonstrate. "Ripcord" may need a more satisfying descent, but Carroll, Golden and the rest of an intrepid Huntington cast make the play's flight entertaining.

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