David Lindsay-Abaire’s raucous farce Ripcord (★★★) might be about the beginning of a beautiful friendship, or the origin of one nasty feud, depending on whether anyone’s left standing when this duel of pranks finally comes to an end. But Abby (Deb Gottesman) and Marilyn (Claire Schoonover), retirees and new roommates on the top floor of the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility, are both too stubborn and too competitive to relent once their war of wagers gets going.
Director Megan Thrift and her game cast make an amusing and heartwarming Scrooge-style tale of Lindsay-Abaire’s odd-couple comedy, now in a regional premiere production at Keegan Theatre. Led by Gottesman’s gloriously grumpy Abby and Schoonover’s unassailably sunny Marilyn, the play develops a seaworthy balance between the ladies’ often vicious ribbing, and the obvious relationship-building that proceeds no matter how hard Abby tries to fight it.
The roomies are at odds over Abby’s desire to have the room to herself. She’s been there for years, while Marilyn was installed only weeks ago in their two-bed studio, with a view of the nearby park. Marilyn, who especially enjoys the view, covets Abby’s bed next to the window. So the pair comes to terms on a bet that would see Abby regain her private room if she wins, or award Marilyn the bed by the window if she wins.
Even for a shared studio in a retirement facility, Matthew J. Keenan’s set hardly looks like a room worth fighting over, but the decor and props, and the performances, do invest the space with real meaning. Abby and Marilyn both have lost a lot along the way to Bristol Place, so every little bit they can hold onto counts. Craig Miller’s hair and makeup design and Alison Samantha Johnson’s costumes also do more than a little to accentuate the characterizations, although Schoonover and Gottesman have that matter well in hand.
Schoonover carries off Marilyn’s perpetual sunniness and Doris Day hairdo with aplomb, while a marvelous Gottesman manages to keep Abby’s blooming heart so well-concealed as to actually create suspense about where this escalating prank war is so clearly heading. Both ladies adroitly navigate the play’s turns between Golden Girls banter and tear-jerking revelations, with able assists from Jared Shamberger as facility orderly Scotty and Kari Ginsburg as Marilyn’s daughter Colleen.
Robert Bowen Smith is less successful, however, in his thin characterization of one of Abby’s long-lost relatives. The two confront each other in a pivotal scene that could have elevated the drama beyond its Very Special Episode atmosphere, but the scene falls flat — it seems Rabbit Hole scribe Lindsay-Abaire put away his Pulitzer pen for Ripcord. Still, his play and Thrift’s staging do capture the birth of a friendship in the fun little farce, which is a beautiful thing to experience at any age.
Ripcord runs through July 6 at The Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. Tickets are $20 to $46. Call 202-265-3767, or visit www.KeeganTheatre.com.