What happens when you put an introvert and an extreme extrovert together in a shared bedsit? Chaos. “Ripcord,” the comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed for The Little Theatre of Alexandria by Jessie Roberts, has fun with this premise. Lots of fun. It’s a farce with a dark side — and a surprising side of mean, but it is quite funny. Just accept that it’s over-the-top and the mean becomes funny.
…watching Zucker and Rehns play off of each other is a pleasure.
Abby Binder (a tightly wound and self-contained Janice Zucker) is living in a retirement home where she has a new and unwelcome roommate — Marilyn Dunne (Marsha Rehns). Abby is reserved, reticent and not so happy to share a room. She schemes to have her moved to another room, but Marilyn tells her she wants Abby’s side of the room with the window and light. So the women come to an agreement. If Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn will move. If Marilyn can scare Abby, she gets the better side of the room. And then, folks, we are off to the races.
This is an insane level of farce. There are dirty tricks, skullduggery, drugging, and a kidnapping. At one point, nearly everybody jumps out of a plane because Marilyn’s family owns a skydiving school, so why not. While the madcap plots are over-the-top, they underscore two things. Sharing your later years with a roommate about which you have no choice is hard, but both women really do need each other.
The Little Theatre of Alexandria (LTA) does well with the haunted house set, the plane set, and the park. They use a gigantic screen pulled across the stage for the other scenes that are not in the room the women share. The set designer, Jim Hutzler, thoroughly evokes the feel of an affordable retirement home in the colors, “pleasant” art and the slightly worn furniture.
The cast is uniformly good. From the outset you feel that there is more to Zucker’s held-in Abby than the obvious refusal to play nice. As Marilyn, Rehns is chatty and outgoing, charming, and totally annoying. She doesn’t make lemonade out of lemons, she makes a lemon meringue pie with ice cream and a cherry on top — and never lets up. But there’s an underlying kindness and a sense of wanting to live life as if you’re jumping out of a plane (willingly) until the very end.
The leads are ably surrounded by co-conspirators, or rather, actors. Cameron McBride plays Scotty, a nurse at the home who has dreams of becoming an actor. He has such an open demeanor, he can fool you. Benjamin (Adam Ressa), Abby’s estranged son (and Lewis/Clown) uses his expressive face and gangly form to firmly inhabit his characters. He absolutely nails two, very different acting turns. He is a man in recovery trying to reconnect with his mother, he nails a very different persona, embodying the hope, self-absorption, and longing for validation of a recovering addict. Kathy Ohlhaber springs onto the stage as Marilyn’s daughter, Colleen (and the Woman in White). Colleen is like a really, really happy golden retriever who’s up for anything at any time. Derek, Marilyn’s son-in-law (and Zombie/Masked Man), are played by Matt Baughman. The Masked Man is a study in comedic timing and pratfalls.
Since there is no way that some of these scenarios could be allowed to happen in real life — at least not by sane people — the best thing for an audience member to do is to simply sit back and let the escalating tricks and expert delivery wash over you. Enjoy a veteran cast that can really bring the crazy, and sort of actually make it look plausible. As somebody once said, old age isn’t for sissies, and watching Zucker and Rehns play off of each other is a pleasure.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes with a 10-minute “stand and stretch break.”
Show Advisory: Some adult language; discussions of drug use.
“Ripcord” runs through June 26, 2021 on stage at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street
Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, go to the website. You can purchase tickets here or call the box office at 703-683-0496.