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Review: Playhouse's ‘Ripcord’ is a fun, yet thoughtful, exploration of some deep issues

Review: Playhouse's ‘Ripcord’ is a fun, yet thoughtful, exploration of some deep issues

“Ripcord,” the new play at the Omaha Community Playhouse, is a lot of fun.

The story of two roommates at an assisted living facility, it has innovative staging by director Kimberly Faith Hickman, well-executed sight gags and a script by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire that’s sometimes knee-slappingly funny.

It also has some depth, an undercurrent of sadness you might expect in a play that’s about characters who have lived lives of abundant joy and sorrow and are facing their own mortality.

Abby (Charleen Willoughby) is the roommate who’s set in her ways, the one who doesn’t need companionship and resents that it’s forced upon her. She was described as “cantankerous” in publicity for the show, but it becomes apparent that “bitter” might be a better word. She insists she never gets scared.

Marilyn (Judy Radcliff) is the eternal optimist, the seemingly unflappable one. She’s decided it’s better to continually choose happiness rather than to wallow in disappointment. She insists she never gets angry.

After Abby makes a few unsuccessful attempts to persuade Marilyn to switch rooms, the two make a bet: If Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn will move. If Marilyn can scare Abby, Marilyn not only will stay, she will get the bed by the window with a view to the park across the street.

Thus begins a series of pranks to achieve their goals, all subversive and increasingly mean-spirited. Abby goes it alone, while Marilyn gets help from her daughter Colleen (Kaitlyn McClincy) and son-in-law Derek (Playhouse newcomer Matt Tarr).

As you might expect, the pranks provide a lot of the humor, and the cast enjoys carrying them out. This is the first time I’ve seen two actors in local theater (Willoughby and McClincy) actually break up mid-scene a la Carol Burnett and friends. The duo handled it well when laughter threatened to derail their performances.

Each actor in the six-member ensemble brings a lot to the table: McClincy and Tarr are engagingly goofy in their main roles (they also are great doing double duty in a haunted house scene); first-time actor Sahil Khullar is totally believable as a kind, peacemaking worker at the home; Kevin Goshorn handles three very different roles (Abby’s estranged son, Benjamin; a crazed clown; and Marilyn’s son, the manic Lewis) with ease.

And Radcliff and Willoughby show why they’ve won multiple area theater awards over the years. They expertly bring these characters to life and make us relate to their personalities — and their issues.

For me, however, the overall story was flawed. Abby’s character seemed way too caustic and churlish without any explanation for what made her that way. Some of her actions go beyond mean and border on cruel. We eventually learn her backstory, but I thought it was too late.

That made Abby hard to take and dulled a couple of the comic moments for me.

The show’s technical aspects were what I’ve come to expect at the Playhouse.

Paul Pape’s set does a lot with a little, tied together by innovative use of rope. I did have a quibble with set changes: They could have used a couple more crew members, because it took too long to place all the props in the room at the home.

Jim Othuse’s lighting was cool. Look for his use of blacklight in the haunted house scene, especially reflecting off the set and Amanda Fehlner’s costumes. Tim Vallier’s original music and John Gibilisco’s sound also were great.

This show, obviously, will appeal to people of a certain age. But don’t let that stop you from going if you’re not there yet — even if you’re far from it. Your parents will be there sooner than you think, and you’ll get very familiar with senior living options.

Anybody with any knowledge of that world — or anybody who has an elderly friend or relative — will get a kick out of “Ripcord.”

Ripcord

Where: Omaha Community Playhouse Hawks Mainstage, 6915 Cass St.

When: Friday through Feb. 11.

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $30 adults, $18 students; exception, $24 adults, $16 students on Wednesdays; ticket prices are subject to change based on performance date, seat location and ticket demand

Information: omahaplayhouse.com or 402-553-0800.

elizabeth.freeman@owh.com, 402-444-1267

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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