By Tulis McCall
Take equal parts David Lindsay-Abaire, Marylouise Burke, Holland Taylor and David Hyde Pierce, shake, shake, shake – and you have yourself a very funny show. Well, perhaps not VERY funny – but funny enough.
This is an old story – put two people of opposing points of view into one room and wait for them to kill one another. Abby Binder (Holland Taylor) has been living in the Bristol Place Assisted Living Facility (the exact opposite of the place where Weller and Fonsia reside in The Gin Game) for four years. In that time she has been mostly the sole proprietor of a double room. Not because there is a vast turnover but because she is a bully and no one wants to live with her.
Marilyn Dunne (Marylouise Burke) us a perky newcomer who inhales life and breathes out fairy dust. She is positive and loves to talk – both qualities that Abby despises. Try as Abby might, she cannot seem to get Marilyn tossed out of the room – even though a recent death has brought a new vacancy. Real estate is everything in this place. As for Marilyn, she likes Abby as well as the view. She does not want to go.
About 30 minutes into the play (the first 30 minutes are barely necessary and include a visit to a haunted house that is not needed in the least) the two strike up a deal. The wager is that if Marilyn can scare Abby she will not only stay but get the bed near the window. If Abby can make Marilyn mad Marilyn will move out. Finally we achieve lift off of some substance.
Thus ensues dastardly deeds that show us who these women are and of what they are capable. This is where the meat of the play lies and Lindsay-Abaire lets his imagination run loose. Abby can be meaner than we had imagined and Marilyn will go pretty far to frighten her roommate. There are a few hilarious moments as well as some shameful ones. As each woman ramps up her campaign the atmosphere shifts and the two become allies in combat. Isn’t there a syndrome name for this?
As time goes on, and the layers peel off we get a few glimpses into who these women are – but not enough for my taste and certainly not enough to satisfy the talents of Taylor and Burke. What could be a character study comes off not quite comedy and not quite tragedy. The play becomes plodding and luck-warm in places. Luke warm is not where Lindsay-Abaire shines. Even the predictable ending rolls this play to a full stop.
The night is not a waste by any means. We are surprised more than once as the plot and these two women pick up steam. And the performances, with the exception of a few blown lines, are pure pleasure. This is a play that entertains without making you think too much. David Hyde Pierce’s direction is solid and unaffected. Still, you may leave the theatre as I did, wanting just a bit more from these two complex women. It is one of those plays where “The End” feels more like “The Beginning” and you wish you could hang around to see what happens. And pull a couple of ripcords just for the heck of it.
RIPCORD by David Lindsay-Abaire, Directed by David Hyde Pierce
WITH Marylouise Burke, Rachel Dratch, Glenn Fitzgerald, Daoud Heidami, Nate Miller and Holland Taylor
Manhattan Theatre Club, City Center Stage 1, through December 6. 212-581-1212