Review: ‘Ripcord’ at Keegan Theatre

The cute little old ladies are up to something at the sunny nursing home. They share the same room and enough wit to fight over the turf like two college roommates. If only we all could grow old with such spunk and physicality! The woman-child trope of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord at Keegan Theatre is the familiar key in a sound production filled with honest actors, stunning visuals, and imaginative design. Once you get into the humor of it, and just go along with the premise, you have a sporting good time.

Claire Schoonover and Deb Gottesman in ‘Ripcord.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The story of the two women at Bristol Place Senior Living Facility is backed up by the usual suspects: grown children plus a facility certified nursing assistant or orderly as played by Jared Shamberger. The three actors who take on numerous roles, Kari Ginsburg, Oscar Ceville, and Robert Bowen Smith, insert bold physicality and well-timed response as the story changes location or situation, whether repentant son, zombie, clown, or masked man.

Of the central characters, Abby, played by Deb Gottesman, is the grumpier of the two. Abby doesn’t want a roommate and the chipper, affable Marilyn played by Claire Schoonover is not to be lived with. A wager is placed about staying or going, and in the escalation to get the upper hand, the story unfolds.

It is curious as to why Abby has a chip on her shoulder, how on Earth it got there, and why it weighs so much. We find out before the evening ends, but in the meantime, we see Abby with a countenance reminiscent of Saturday Night Live alumni Rachel Dratch, and the depressed antics to match Dratch’s character “Debbie Downer.” Abby just may not be your kind of gal. She is a woman who wants the room to herself, can’t taste a thing, won’t scare easily, and doesn’t lose a bet. She embodies an overdose of Nyquil and tumbles soundlessly off the bed, slips out of the chair, or turns her head, and with that second glance, puts the conversation in its place.

We are glad to discover that Abby’s roommate Marilyn, played by Claire Schoonover, has a warm disposition. Marilyn is everything that Abby is not. She is generous, outgoing, never angry, and eager to smile. Claire Schoonover is fun to watch. She brings us a Marilyn who truly delights in the most surprising extreme schemes that have a harsh novelty.  
Marilyn has accomplices in her actions. Family members and orderly, Scotty, played by Shamberger, assist Marilyn and play a part in several scenarios. Shamberger is the type of orderly everyone should have in a nursing home or in a retirement community for that matter.  

Scotty gets Marilyn to buy a ticket to his Halloween production. Set Design by Matthew Kennan transforms the location, and with a few swift moves, Marilyn and Abby are all of a sudden inside a haunted house. The antics of the Clown (Robert Bowen Smith) and the Zombie Butler (Oscar Ceville) set up instant amusement boldly underlined with Sound Design by Veronica J. Lancaster that makes the room shake.

Oscar Ceville and Deb Gottesman in ‘Ripcord.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Other situations offer equal surprises. Lighting design by Jessica Steadman takes us up in the air and then gives the feeling of a gentle float back down to earth. Video projection and the actors make sky diving dangerous and funny without leaving the ground. Director Megan Thrift has delivered an engaging production in a great space with winning actors.

There is no need to give anything away, these actors and Ripcord take you along for a good ride, and you don’t need a walker or a parachute.    

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission

Ripcord plays through July 6, 2019, at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or go online.

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Jane Franklin
Jane Franklin received a MFA from The Ohio State University as a University Fellow and certification from the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies. Jane Franklin’s choreography has been presented at multiple venues and festivals in the mid-Atlantic region and southwestern US and internationally in the UK and in Mexico. A recipient of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region Creative Communities Award, Jane has developed innovative and collaborative projects combining dancers with the round wall skateboarding community, with a life size kinetic sculpture, with the architecture of a specific site, with dogs & owners, and with interactive live video and sound for numerous public art projects.