By Harriet Howard Heithaus
Naples Daily News
Naples Players’ last production, “Kalamazoo,” centered on senior romance. Its upcoming “Ripcord,” which opens Wednesday, flips those senior emotions. Its protagonists despise each other.
One of the lessons behind the David Lindsay-Abaire play is that senior psyches run as deep as their children’s and grandchildren’s: The milieus have simply changed. For Marilyn Dunne (played by Janina Birtolo) and Abby Binder (Bonnie Knapp), that milieu is life at an assisted living center, where the staff is patronizing and the decor bland as naked oatmeal.
Abby has the window bed, with the view of a park for which Marilyn lusts. Marilyn has the kind of cheery demeanor and bubbly presence many of us can’t stand before our first cup of coffee, and Abby lusts for the solitude of a single life in her double room . Both circle around each other, Abby offering peach cobbler and Marilyn offering to help her get a just-vacated first-floor room.
Before long they each know the other’s vulnerabilities, and Marilyn proposes a wager: If Abby can make her angry, something she declares never happens, Marilyn will move out. If she, on the other hand, can scare Abby, who purports to be fearless, Abby must give up her choice bed by the window.
One thing that’s certain about both is that they play to win. The tricks begin ratcheting up to scary, potentially lethal, projects while the helpless staff looks on.
Nearly everyone questioned in the cast has had some experience with a Get Out of My Life relationship, or at least an annoying one. For Birtolo, it was a roommate whose decor preference was War Zone.
“It got to the point that I asked her to just keep her door closed, because it was such a mess,” she recalled. “I came to realize not everyone does things the way I do them.”
Director Carolyn Howarth is sure she’s had one, a coworker who was eventually fired, “but I’ve totally blocked it out of my mind,” she said, laughing.
Even Naples Players Executive Director Bryce Alexander recalls one: a rowdy college roommate who went on a spree involving illegal substances and ended up sleeping au naturel in a classroom he had broken into — before being chased, in the buff, by campus police back to the dorms. He solved his own problem, Alexander said: “He got kicked out of school.”
Both Abby and Marilyn are “essentially good people,” said Howarth, who is here from California to direct. She said she is making her own tracks with the relatively new work, which had “only been produced a couple of times” when Alexander offered it to her. Howarth said she really likes the works of Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winner “Rabbit Hole.”
“And I also like that this has two really good roles for actresses of a certain age, which don’t come along too often.
“Even though there are some serious, heartfelt moments, there’s a theme of absurdity that runs through the play,” said Howarth of the antics to which the two resort. “I wish we all could be so clever.”
Birtolo loves playing Marilyn: “She’s kooky, she’s upbeat — she’s a little bit like me.” Marilyn’s flaw, she said, is that she doesn’t think ahead.
“She’s impulsive. She doesn’t always consider the ramifications of what she’s doing,” Birtolo said of Marilyn’s bet with Abby. Those impulses, it seems, involve hangman’s nooses and parachutes.
Who of the pair wins, if either wins, and how, will be saved for theatergoers to enjoy. No one would give it away. But Birtolo offered a description of the ending:
What: Naples Players’ production of the David Lindsay-Abaire dramedy about two extremely different personalities forced to be roommates and how they plot to change that
When: Wednesday, April 25, through May 20; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Blackburn Hall, Sugden Community Theatre, 701 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
Admission: $40, $10 students and educators with ID
Tickets: 239-263-7990, naplesplayers.org or at the box office