Looking Glass Playhouse presents “Ripcord”

Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon, Illinois has a great season this year: they are presenting 4 “new-to-them” shows.  The first was Hunchback of Notre Dame, and this production is a delight called Ripcord. Later this year, we will be treated to Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, and  Almost, Maine. The final production of their year will be The Wizard of Oz.

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire (whose previous plays include Rabbit Hole, Fuddy Meers, Shrek the Musical, High Fidelity), this dark comedy had last night’s audience in continuous laughter.

The time and place is now, in a bright room on an upper floor is what appears to be an “Assisted Living” community for aging seniors.  Abby, played by veteran actor Stephanie Rhein, is a bad-tempered woman who is hoping for an upstairs neighbor to die so that she can upgrade to that superior and single room. Abby has no use for roommates she wants to nurse her misery in private.  Instead, she is forced to live with her temperamental opposite, the ever cheerful optimistic Marilyn, played by the ever cheerful and equally experienced actor, Chris Wilson.  Abby has the bed near the window, a spot coveted by Marilyn.  This is the set up for an hilarious and touching 2 act battle of wills between these two women.  They agree to a contest: Marilyn says she doesn’t get angry, and Abby insists she is never scared.  The gauntlet is thrown, and the battle begins.

Marilyn enlists her family for backup; her daughter Colleen (also the Woman in White), played by Alison Beach; her son-in-law Derek (also the Zombie Butler), played energetically by Mark Conrad; and her son Lewis (also Benjamin and the Clown), played by Jase Martin.  These characters and their others hint at some of the startling and amusing directions taken by the script. Trust me here: these are good directions.

The referee for the fight, nurse Scotty, is played by Kasey Kopp as a sweet, well meaning, supportive, and finally exasperated rule enforcer.

But the battle that begins as a series of practical jokes becomes personal and hurtful, and the audience is pulled into the emotional history of two women who have lived a long time and endured a great deal. At first, I was somewhat confused by the setting.   Neither woman seems to have either mental or physical problems which would suggest they need to be assisted in any way. We never know for sure why these women are there, and it really doesn’t matter.  This is not a predictable play.  As a viewer, I thought I knew where this was headed, and found I was only partly right.  And that, as a Martha Stewart always said, is a “good thing.”

I applaud Looking Glass for introducing their audience to new material.  I appreciate it, and I know I am not the only one.  This six person cast did a great job.  Everyone was committed to the material and able to explore both the fun and the sadness uncovered.

The production staff for this show includes Jason Koonce as director, and his wife Emmy as Assistant Director. He also was responsible for lighting this.  This material is obviously close to his heart.  Anne Ecker and her production crew of Emmy, Andrea and Michelle Pfau kept things moving, with Costume Design by Jason Johnson appropriately cheery and dismal for the two leads and zany for the extra “stuff”.  (Hint: at one point, we find out why this show is entitled “Ripcord” and why it’s a metaphor for our lives.) Set Design by Brad Sanker is appropriately drab for an assisted living room that isn’t the best spot in the place, with even a semi-functional bathroom behind a closed door, and the window that everyone wants because it has a clear view of the park.

Good show, refreshing themes; happy to see something new and different.  Thanks, Looking Glass.

Ripcord plays for 8 total performances.  It opened Thursday, November 9, 2017.  Additional performance are Nov 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 PM and Nov 12 and 19 at 2 PM.

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