There may not be two more different actresses on stage than Dale Hodges and Pamela Myers. Not in terms of talent, of course, as their resumes speak for themselves. But in terms of energy and style, you have Hodges’ wry wit and a British-infused subtlety, which has served her well in so many roles dating back to the nurse in the Broadway production of the very serious play, Equus. Myers, a Tony nominated actress for Sondheim’s Company, is anything but subtle. Bombastic and vivacious, her energy transcends the room whenever she walks in. I’m a gigantic fan of both.
So when director D. Lynn Meyers cast them in RIPCORD, a story of two women sharing a room in an assisted living facility, I cleared my schedule. And I am so glad I did. Mark my words – if you do not see this production, you are missing out on some of the funniest and most touching stage magic you’ll ever see.
Hodges plays “Abby,” a crusty old lady who prefers to live alone in her room. But “Marilyn” (Myers) likes the view of the park and isn’t about to let an old curmudgeon ruin her day. Ryan Wesley Gilreath plays “Scottie,” a nurse in the facility to acts as a buffer for the women while Carter Bratton, Lisa DeRoberts, and Justin McCombs round out the rest of the ensemble. Eventually, the two women make an agreement – a “bet,” as it were – and from there, hilarity ensues. And it really is genuine comedy. The laughs are surprising and they come from all over – smart setups, wry one-liners, and physical gags. The timing is spot on, though the cast is having to adjust to some of the biggest laughs I’ve ever heard in a play. The character development and the story arc (contained in the great script by David Lindsay-Abaire) doesn’t stop punching throughout the almost two-hour run-time.
Brian c. Mehring’s set and lighting is every thing you want and more, with jarring cues that keep you on your toes. Video projections assist when the action leaves the nursing home – and it does more than once. Matt Callahan’s sound design accentuates the story, while Kelly Yurko’s wigs and makeup are a nice touch. Reba Senske’s costumes help us know just who these two leading women are, while maintaining a sense of realism.
A show like this could easily become schmaltzy – or sappy, I suppose. But this show, while quite poignant and touching, never loses its sense of humor. Or its air of authenticity. Despite some of the bigger moments (including one, for which the play gets its title) requiring some suspension of disbelief, the acting keeps the characters grounded.
Abby vs. Marilyn. Hodges vs. Myers. Who wins? All of us who are there to see it.
RIPCORD is a must-see production at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. It runs until February 16th. Tickets and more information are available here.