What would we do without odd couples? Not just Neil Simon’s Oscar and Felix but all those mismatched friends, lovers, spouses, siblings, parents, partners, pets, cousins, exes, execs, scoundrels, thieves and other ill-suited collaborationists whose sum is more than the equal of their farce? With Ripcord, David Lindsay-Abaire adds a new odd couple to the long list of embraceable yous with the deeply satisfying and vastly entertaining story of Abby Binder and Marilyn Dunne, two elderly women thrown together by a comic cosmic force possessed of a wicked sense of humor.
Holland Taylor (Two-And-A-Half Men) plays Abby, the Maggie Smith role of the cranky misanthrope who just wants everyone to not bother her. The play, which had its world premiere Tuesday at the Manhattan Theatre Club, is set at “the Bristol Place Assisted Living Facility,” where Abby enjoys a sunny double room on a high floor that she has managed to secure for herself because every potential roommate has quickly realized any attempt to stay will have an adverse effect on health and temperament.
Until, that is, the arrival of Marilyn, played to a fare-thee-well by Marylouise Burke in the Debbie Reynolds role of the sunny optimist who will not go to the dark side no matter how much she is pushed. You couldn’t ask for a more classic situation to stick a comedy in. They agree to a bet: If Marilyn can frighten Abby, she gets to stay. But if Abby can make Marilyn angry first, she has to move to another apartment.
What ensues is a series of increasingly harrowing smackdowns as both women raise the stakes (with a considerable assist from Alexander Dodge’s ingenious sets, which change locales with the greatest of ease). We’ll see some sky-diving (hence the title) as well as a confrontation with a long-estranged son, tampering with medications and a visit to a haunted house.
With Lindsay-Abaire — a shape-shifting writer whose always humanist works range from twee (Fuddy Meers) to serious (Good People) to dead serious (Rabbit Hole) — nothing ever happens merely for its own sake. There are deeper issues lurking below the comedic surface here as well, having to do with loneliness and life consequences, how we treat the elderly and how darned inconvenient they can be, with their aches and pains and other psychological disappointments. Director David Hyde Pierce and his cast navigate these treacherous waters with finesse and snap timing that gradually build from belly laughs to something more emotionally nutritious. The cast includes form Saturday Night Live cast member Rachel Dratch, Glenn Fitzgerald, Daoud Heidami and Nate Miller, all terrific. But this is the Holland and Marylouise show all the way, and they make the most of it. A show to treasure.