Ever loathed a roommate so much you’ve wanted to push him—or her—out of a plane? If so, you’ll find relatable material in “Ripcord,” a David Lindsay-Abaire comedy having its world premiere at the MTC’s New York City Center Stage I outpost.
It helps immeasurably that the two stars of Lindsay-Abaire’s heavily contrived play, set mostly at a high-end assisted living facility, are Marylouise Burke (“Fuddy Meers”) and Holland Taylor (“Ann,” and TV’s “Two and a Half Men”). Both are gems.
The new roomies are opposite poles on the personality spectrum. Burke’s Marilyn is jovial, clad in festive prints and full of life. Her family visits often, and she claims to be too well-adjusted to ever get “angry.” Taylor’s Abby, meanwhile, is a loner, a former teacher who uses sarcasm to push people away … and boy, does she want Marilyn to go away.
“Ripcord” hinges on a high-stakes bet (well, for them) that Marilyn and Abby make early on: Marilyn will move out if Abby can, somehow, make her mad. But, if Marilyn can put a scare into the proudly fearless Abby, then Marilyn not only gets to stay, but Abby has to give up her sunny window-side bed. Wars have been waged over less, no doubt.
As “Ripcord” progresses—the uneven direction is by David Hyde Pierce—the two ladies play a series of escalating pranks on one another, jokes that cross over early into the painful and cruel. There’s also a strange trip to a haunted house. And an unusual airplane journey, from whence comes the show’s title.
Both women have deep secrets in their families. Each manages to suss out the other’s and use it against her, but the gags and tricks ultimately shortchange any opportunity the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (“Rabbit Hole”) has to deliver a meaningful message.
Burke is all flappy arm movements and eccentric caftans. Taylor is tweedy and economical in her gestures. You won’t get tired watching these two pros one-upping each other, but you may be left to wonder whether Lindsay-Abaire is too generous with his support for Marilyn over Abby.
Marilyn is overbearing, trying to draw out someone who’d rather be left alone. That she means her attention as a series of friendly overtures doesn’t change the fact she lacks boundaries. Further, Lindsay-Abaire has tacked on an ending so saccharine and out of sync with what has come before that it rings false, even in what’s obviously a comedy.
Rachel Dratch (“SNL”) and Daoud Heidami (“Bengal Tiger …”) are on hand as Marilyn’s daughter and son-in-law, who assist with her pranks. Dratch’s role, in particular, is meant to be slapstick, though it strangely relies on a strongly-implied S&M subplot for its humor, an even more dissonant note once we learn some of her mother’s darker secrets.
Nate Miller has nice moments as a wannabe-actor stuck doling out medications, and replicating that bright, yet condescending cheer you see in people who work around the frail.
I think Lindsay-Abaire is saying that to survive old age, you need to make as many friends and take as many risks as you can. It’s the only way to stay invested in life, and so forth. I’ll argue that it’s a noble idea, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting a room of your own.
“Ripcord,” through Dec. 6 at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage I, 131 W. 55th St. Tickets: $90. Call 212-581-1212.