Theatre Reviews
Photo by John Lamb courtesy of Stray Dog Theatre

“Ripcord” is one of the lesser-known works of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. He is the reigning Tony winner for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score for his work on “Kimberly Akimbo.” His original play “Rabbit Hole” was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Lindsay-Abaire's black comedy “Ripcord” enjoyed an off-Broadway run for limited engagement that was directed by David Hyde Pierce. It is now being produced as part of Stray Dog Theatre’s 2024 Season at Tower Grove Abbey through June 22, 2024.

Directed by Gary Bell, “Ripcord” is the story of the cantankerous loner Abby (Annie Bayer) who has lived in a top floor apartment of a retirement center apartment for the past four years. She wants nothing more than to be left alone, but she cannot afford a private room. Each time the center administrator places a new roommate in Abby’s double occupancy room, she runs the roommate off with surly rudeness. Seems dealing with crabby Abby isn’t worth having one of the most desired rooms in the facility. Abby’s latest roommate is the perky, chatty, and competitive Marilyn (Jan Mantovani). Marilyn refuses to be run off. She is hell-bent to stay in the room. A bet is made. The gloves come off. It is no-holds-barred fisticuffs to keep the room. Seems crabby Abby has finally met her match in the determined Marilyn, and both will stop at nothing to win the bet.

Bell has directed a sidesplitting production of a dark comedy that could be billed as “The War of the Roses” for the senior set. Bayer and Mantovani literally throw themselves into their roles with fearless abandon. Bayer creates a cold and unlikeable character. She is resolute in her resolve not to engage with Marilyn and refuses to give in. Mantovani’s Marilyn is the exact opposite. She is an annoying ball of optimistic sunshine. She bounds about the apartment yapping Abby’s ear off and refuses to let Abby dampen her positive spirit. Marilyn becomes Abby’s worst nightmare. Their acting partnership is golden. Both create indelible characters who invoke uproarious laughter. Bayer because of her snark, and Mantovani because of her slapstick shenanigans.

Victor Mendez plays the nurse assigned to their room. His character Scotty is an aspiring actor who is drawn to the affable Marilyn and annoyed by the crotchety Abby. He labors as the straight man for much of the play but gets one well-earned laugh near the end of the second act. Donna Parrone and Matt Anderson play the daughter and bumbling son-in-law of Marilyn who get roped into helping Marilyn win the bet. Parrone creates real mother-daughter chemistry with Mantovani. Anderson’s blunders are ridiculously funny bits in his attempt to trick Abby.

Jeremy Goldmeier’s portrayal of Abby’s estranged son Benjamin is magnificent. He and Bayer create palpable tension when he visits his mother in the facility. Benjamin is a fragile man, who is barely able to hang on. His unwillingness to accept mother’s rejection can be heard in his voice, seen in his expression, and is apparent in his quivering lip and shrinking posture. It’s a very tender moment and Goldmeier exhibits heartbreaking emotion. His outstanding portrayal is matched one-for-one by Bayer’s performance as the mother who refuses to crack. In that moment, Bayer conveys all the pain and heartache that has made Abby the distant, emotionally inaccessible person that she has become. Goldmeier and Bayer make fantastic scene partners.

Bell’s crisp direction and blocking magnifies the physical comedy. He and his cast have mined every joke from the script. When the story allowed, Colleen Michelson created campy costumes to enhance the humor. Rob Lippert, Tyler Duenow, and Justin Bean gave Bell and the cast exactly what they needed from their set, lighting, and sound design.

There are many ridiculous and implausible plot points built into Lindsay-Abaire's script that simply must be overlooked because it all adds to the farce. The humor is dark and grounded in meanness and hatred, but Bell and his cast really lean into the lampooning spoof. Stray Dog’s “Ripcord” is a hysterical comedy that will coax deep belly laughs, chuckles, guffaws, and perhaps even a snort or two.

“Ripcord” will be presented at Tower Grove Abbey through June 22, 2024. More information can be found at Stray Dog's web site.

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