Huntington’s raucous ‘Ripcord’ has humor, heart

Richard Prioleau, Nancy E. Carroll, Eric T. Miller, Annie Golden, and Laura Latreille in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Ripcord, directed by Jessica Stone, playing May 26 – June 25, 2017, South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

BOSTON – As the weather finally, hopefully, turns warmer and brighter, the “Virginia Woolf”’s of the world – as wonderful as they are – give way to works such as “Ripcord,” the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s new comedy now at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The South Boston native and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Rabbit Hole” has returned to his comic roots and works such as “Kimberly Akimbo,” and “Ripcord” delivers razor-sharp dialogue and delicious plot twists.

Lindsay-Abaire is determined to make us laugh hard and often, but he’ll get serious in the second act, when he muses about what can happen when we shut ourselves off from others.

Lindsay-Abaire’s intent was to write a play about two characters who really get after each other, and he has succeeded in spades.

The characters in question couldn’t be more different. Abby (Nancy E. Carroll) is used to having her own way in the senior living facility in suburban New Jersey where she has lived for four years. Although she lives in a double room, she has often lived alone, as she prefers it, driving off a series of roommates or conniving with a former administrator.

Nancy E. Carroll and Annie Golden in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Ripcord, directed by Jessica Stone, playing May 26 – June 25, 2017, South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

There’s one problem: She doesn’t have the resources to pay for a private room, and the new administrator isn’t her pal.

Abby’s newest roommate is Marilyn, a woman for whom the sun is always shining, and everyone is a new friend she hasn’t met yet.

Lindsay-Abaire arms Abby with a series of comic ripostes which she delivers in a taciturn, dour and deadpan manner, hitting her targets with deadly accuracy.

Marilyn responds not with anger, but even more kindness, and encouraging words and deeds.

That only makes Abby angrier. Eventually the two agree on the stakes of a bet: If Marilyn wins, she will get the coveted bed by the window. If Abby prevails, Marilyn will leave the room.

To win, Abby must make Marilyn angry; Marilyn must scare Abby to get the coveted window bed.

The blows between the two start around the head level but quickly move steadily southward, until Abby delivers a shot that is most definitely below the belt.

The contest devolves into ever-more-imaginative ways to torture each other .

The title will suggest one of the events Marilyn has in store for Abby, and it is hilariously portrayed.

In the end, it will be a blow that lands very close to home that causes an unanticipated reunion.

And while the principals are duking it out, there is some fine supporting work from the cast.

Ugo Chukwu is an affable, fun-loving health aide named Scotty who also doubles as an amateur actor, giving Abby yet another target

Marilyn’s daughter Colleen (Laura Latreille) and son-in-law Derek (Richard Prioleau) are drawn into the brawl, with hilarious results.

Eric T. Miller – so wonderful in Huntington’s 2014 “Awake and Sing” — has a very fine turn indeed as Abby’s struggling son.

Tobin Ost’s haunted house design and senior living space ring true, while Lucy Mackinnon’s projections key the hilarious sky-diving sequence.

Director Jessica Stone was an accomplished actress before she started turning to directing. The tone and pacing of the piece are just right, from the first words to the last.

You’ll rejoice in the misdeeds and malevolence of Abby and Marilyn in the first act, and in the second when they eventually rediscover their humanity.

“Ripcord” is a wild ride – much like, say, a sky dive – but it never sacrifices its story on the altar of comedy. The characters feel real, the situations – with one major exception – do, too, and the result is a most entertaining, heartfelt spring evening at the theater, and who couldn’t use that?

The Huntington Theatre Company production of “Ripcord.” Written by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Jessica Stone. Set design by Tobin Ost. Costume design by Gabriel Barry. Lighting design by David Weiner. Sound design and original music by Mark Bennett. At the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through July 2.