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Huntington Closes Out 35th Season with a Comedy

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord set in a retirement home

Many people might suppose that an assisted living facility would not be a promising setting for a comedy, but in playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord—the final production of the Huntington Theatre Company’s 35th season—the fictional Bristol Place retirement home is rife with absurdist humor.

Ripcord examines what happens when two elderly widows of vastly different temperaments are forced to live together. The cantankerous Abby Binder, played to hilarious effect by veteran Boston actress Nancy E. Carroll, wishes to live alone but must give up half her room when the relentlessly cheerful Marilyn Dunne (Annie Golden) arrives. The two women make what at first glance appears to be a harmless bet, which quickly escalates into a more high-stakes game that becomes more and more personal. Each character researches the other’s past, finding secrets neither wants brought to light.

If all this sounds a bit histrionic, not to worry. Lindsay-Abaire, who made a name for himself with the absurdist dark comedies Fuddy Meers (about an amnesiac who loses her memory every time she falls asleep) and Kimberly Akimbo (about a teenager wasting away from a disease that causes her to age rapidly), mines his characters and setting for laughs. It’s a return to form for him, reminiscent of that early work, and a departure from his two plays that earned the greatest critical acclaim: the 2007 Pulitzer Prize–winning and Tony-nominated Rabbit Hole, a drama about grieving parents dealing with the accidental death of their young son, and 2011’s Good People, a probing look at class differences, set in Boston, which was his third Tony nomination (the second was for best book of a musical for Shrek the Musical).

While Ripcord touches on serious issues like familial estrangement and domestic abuse, they are presented in such a way that they “sneak up on you,” says director Jessica Stone. “You look at these funny old ladies who are mismatched and they have to be roommates and you just think, OK, well, we’re in a 21st-century Odd Couple. But it’s not. Suddenly we’re talking about substance abuse and domestic abuse and feeling lonely and abandoned and what family does and doesn’t mean. David handles it beautifully.”

Attracted to stories that “make us look at ourselves and laugh,” Stone says, she was drawn to Ripcord because Lindsay-Abaire’s “comedy feels so effortless, and yet there’s meat there.” She says that working with pros like Carroll and Golden makes it easy to convey both the compassion and the humor in the playwright’s lines.

“Nancy’s a natural fit for this part,” she says. “She’s just funny and a beautiful actress and really understands Abby’s cantankerousness. And Annie Golden is so eccentric and quirky and such a love, but she also has steel underneath her, which I think is key for Marilyn. It’s been a ball to be in the rehearsal room with both of them.”

Richard Prioleau (from left), Carroll, Eric T. Miller, Golden, and Laura Latreille in a scene from Ripcord.

“It always makes it a lot easier when you have people who are highly professional and show up prepared and ready to work, which is what we have with these two actresses,” says stage manager Kevin Schlagle (CFA’12), who did three internships at the Huntington while a BU student. He says he was drawn to the school because of the chance to work with a professional theater company.

Ripcord marks the 11th Huntington production that Schlagle and production stage manager Emily F. McMullen have collaborated on. Schlagle says that in addition to coordinating design elements with the production team and making sure that the director’s vision is carried out, he and McMullen are also tasked with keeping morale up. It helps, he says, that they share a similar sense of humor.

“We know when that sense of humor is appreciated and when not to use it,” he says. “We spend the rehearsal process learning what ticks people off and when people need space and when they need support. You sort of take all that information and keep it in your back pocket, and then when someone’s having a bad day over the course of the show’s run, hopefully you know how to respond so you’re not putting them in a bad place before they perform. Or if they call you and they’re having a problem, you know how to talk to them to make them feel supported, so they can show up and do the show.”

Ripcord is notable for being the final production of the theater company’s 35th season, but even more so because it marks the end of a remarkable 34-year collaboration between Boston University and the Huntington Theatre Company. In March 2016, the University announced that it had sold the BU Theatre, the Huntington’s longtime home, for $25 million. (A new, 75,000-square-foot theater complex, which includes the 250-seat Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre, is currently under construction next to 808 Comm Ave.)

“The Huntington has thrived because of its founding by BU and through over three decades of generous support and mutual partnership,” says Huntington managing director Michael Maso. “Happily, one part of our relationship will continue, since the BU subscription and ticket discount for faculty, staff, and alumni will continue as always, and we look forward to sharing our work with our BU audience for decades more.”

The Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Ripcord is running at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion’s Wimberley Theatre, 527 Tremont St., Boston, through July 2. Purchase tickets online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the Calderwood Pavilion box office or the BU Theatre box office, 264 Huntington Ave. Patrons 35 and younger may purchase $30 tickets (ID required) for any production and there is a $5 discount for seniors. Military personnel can purchase tickets for $20 with promo code MILITARY, and student tickets are available for $20 (valid ID required). Members of the BU community get $10 off (ID required). Call 617-266-0800 for more information. Follow the Huntington Theatre Company on Twitter at @huntington.

John O'Rourke, Editor of BU Today at Boston University
John O’Rourke

John O’Rourke can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

One Comment on Huntington Closes Out 35th Season with a Comedy

  • Mary Hubbard on 05.31.2017 at 1:53 pm

    Hope you go – and love it! We saw it the first night and it was a hit with everyone in our group.

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