Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Funny, poignant, engaging, outrageous, riveting, both predictable and not predictable — all describe the highly entertaining Ripcord, a great choice for the season-opening play at Chenango River Theatre in Greene.
The play hinges on a bet made by two roommates at an assisted living facility: Abby, a negative, cantankerous character played by Suzan Perry, and Marilyn, an annoying cheerful Pollyanna portrayed by Dori May Ganisin. Marilyn is a garrulous and determinedly optimistic cutup who looks for the good in everyone. Abby, a grumpy misanthrope with a low threshold for irritation, is determined to live alone despite being the occupant of a double room.
Their wager, when Marilyn arrives: If Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn moves out of the room. If Marilyn can frighten Abby, Marilyn stays – and gets the bed with the window view.
The play has far more depth than a light summer-theater comedy, although there are many cheap laughs (a haunted house scene full of creepy clowns and vampires). It’s a heart-warming tale of two women at a crossroads who have ended up at a place that’s often the last stop in life. Instead, they choose to grab life fully.
Apparently, the author, Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, is known for creating unbelievable, over-the-top theatrical moments on stage. Take the sky-diving scene in Act I. Marilyn drugs Abby, who gains consciousness just as she’s about to jump from a plane. She professes no fear and only later admits she was “shitting bricks.”
Perry and Ganisin are consummate actresses, peeling layer after layer from the initially one-dimensional characters to reveal the painful life experiences beneath. A powerful scene between Abby and her many times “rehabilitated” addict son, Benjamin (Chris Hatch), explains Abby’s unrelenting negativity and bitterness. The revelation that Marilyn’s (now deceased) alcoholic husband beat her, explains her desire to gloss over her pain with humor and practical jokes.
Their battle of wills escalates and becomes thoroughly sadistic, starting out as slapstick but turning personal and cruel. In the end, the unlikely “odd couple” bury the hatchet and find grounds for friendship.
While the two combatants dominate the play, Ripcord features excellent actors in supporting roles: Hatch as Abby’s son (plus the scary clown), Ricky DeRosa as nursing home staffer Scotty, Alexis Robbins as Marilyn’s daughter Colleen and Bradley Michalakis as son-in-law Derek (plus a couple of other bit parts).
Director Drew Kahl is to be applauded for the success of this deeply satisfying and entertaining play, as well as other members of the artistic and production staff: Julie Duro (lighting), Barbara Kahl (costume design), Bill Lelbach (set design), Jeff Knapp (sound design), Paige Harris (stage manager), Penelope Murzenski (backstage crew) and Jennifer LoPresti (sound).
Congratulations, also, to Chenango River Theatre for honoring Cider Mill Playhouse ticket-holders this season. A couple seated behind us were visiting CRT for the first time, having been long-time Cider Mill Playhouse play-goers. They were leery of a new (to them) venue and a new theater experience. They exited Ripcord, obviously tickled pink by the play and thrilled they’d discovered a new cultural gem in the region’s arts community.
IF YOU GO: Ripcord plays 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 17 at the Chenango River Theatre, 991 State Route 12, Greene. June 1 features a post-show talkback. Visit or call 656-TIXX for tickets.