One-upmanship among widows at a New Jersey senior living facility provides the lighthearted and surprisingly touching crux of Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2015 Off-Broadway comedy “Ripcord,” currently receiving a pleasantly humorous local premiere at the Dayton Playhouse courtesy of Young at Heart Players, a senior troupe founded by Fran Pesch entering its 16th season.
In this breezy, socially conscious battle of wills staged with astute tone by Annie Pesch, intimidating, tightly-wound bookworm Abby Binder (Gayle Smith) and chatty go-getter Marilyn Dunne (Pesch) are roommates at serious odds. Abby, a retired teacher, shudders at the thought of sharing her digs, especially since its luxuries include a large window and a beautiful view of a park. Ultimately, these polar opposites make a pivotal bet which fuels the play’s silly, dangerous fire. If Abby can make the cheerfully chipper Marilyn angry, Marilyn will move to another room. If Marilyn can make the emotionally rigid Abby scared, she can stay in the room and switch beds so she can have the prized view. In Lindsay-Abaire’s typically kooky fashion, what transpires is an outlandish series of practical jokes ranging from spontaneous skydiving (hence the title) to a fake robbery with a wacky trip to a haunted house thrown in for good measure. Still, as the competition grows crueler with personal stings, a meaningful dose of heartache arises, adding greater, relatable resonance to a play that could’ve been overly repetitive or merely trivial.
Smith, a standout last season in the Dayton Theatre Guild’s production of “The Trip to Bountiful,” is equally strong here capturing the full spectrum of Abby’s persnickety, perturbed, lonesome, and occasionally foul-mouthed aura. She’s really compelling late in Act Two when Lindsay-Abaire wonderfully reveals the pain of Abby’s past scarred by vanished dreams and desires. The delightfully perky Pesch has a ball embodying Marilyn’s joy and keen perceptiveness. There were a few awkward timing issues between Smith and Pesch at the performance attended, but their chemistry didn’t falter on the whole. In addition, Mark Anderson supplies amiable charm as facility aide Scotty, Angela Timpone and John-Michael Lander are zestfully spirited as Marilyn’s daughter Colleen and son-in-law Derek, and J. Gary Thompson, reliably seamless when required to juggle multiple roles, heightens the drama as Benjamin, an estranged, troubled man seeking reconciliation. The personality-tinged scenic design is also noteworthy, particularly the excellent contrast of Abby’s dour décor opposite Marilyn’s colorful accents. In fact, Marilyn’s array of photos and a specific piece of artwork from her grandson says everything about how much she is treasured by her family and why that level of unconditional love likely infuriates Abby to the bone.
Within the fascinating realm of the Lindsay-Abaire universe, “Ripcord” doesn’t strive to be as profound or riveting as “Rabbit Hole” and “Good People” or as darkly funny as “Fuddy Meers” and “Kimberly Akimbo.” It simply lives in an engagingly obtainable world of its own as a revealing reminder of the universal importance of connection, forgiveness and hope.
“Ripcord” continues through Nov. 27 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors/ students. Seating is general admission. Tickets may be purchased with cash or check only. For more information, call (937) 654-0400 or visit online at www.youngatheartplayers.com. Patrons are advised the show contains some strong language not suitable for younger audiences.