Hang onto your seats as Marilyn and Abby try to prove who’s better in SBCC’s ‘Ripcord’
Roommates Marilyn and Abby can’t stand each other.
And they’re willing to do anything to win a bet to see who gets the bed by the window in their room in a retirement community. Anything.
They’ll even jump out of an airplane.
A game of relentless one-upmanship sets the stage for “Ripcord,” a comedy that The Theatre Group at SBCC is performing Wednesday through Oct. 30 at the Garvin Theatre on Santa Barbara City College’s west campus.
The play is part of the group’s 75th anniversary season, and the plot involves a wild bet and the adventures it causes. To get the bed by the window, one of them has to prove she’s better than the other. Apparently that means doing something the other one can’t.
That leads them both to do things like skydiving or entering a haunted house — complete with a zombie butler!
“I read 80 to 200 scripts a year,” director Katie Laris told the News-Press. “This is a play that is incredibly entertaining. At this moment, we wanted to offer our audience something that would allow them to escape into a different reality — a New Jersey retirement community with these two women who have found themselves to be roommates, unexpectedly, who are very different in their personalities.”
“But they’ve both been through a lot in their lives,” Ms. Laris said about the play, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. “It’s really about them getting to know each other. They go through so much in the play, and the audience is taken on a roller coaster ride.
“We’ve never seen two actresses jump out of a plane in our theater, and I’ve been here a long time,” Ms. Laris said.
Marilyn and Abby are played by Ann Dusenberry, who has a connection with Lucille Ball (more about that in a moment), and Leslie Ann Story, who was last seen in the Theatre Group at SBCC’s productions of Noël Coward’s comedy “Blithe Spirit” and “The Game’s Afoot.”
Ms. Dusenberry played the daughter of Ms. Ball’s character in her final TV series, “Life with Lucy” (1986), which was one of Ms. Dusenberry’s favorite gigs. She also appeared on other 1980s TV series such as “Murder She Wrote,” “Matlock,” “Designing Women” and “Remington Steele.” And she played Tina in “Jaws 2” (1978).
On the stage, Ms. Dusenberry performed in Los Angeles productions as well as The Theatre Group at SBCC’s productions of “You Can’t Take It WIth You,” “Omnium Gatherum” and “Through the Fire.”
Ms. Story has played characters on stage varying from Miss Lynch in “Grease” to Mrs. Paroo in “The Music Man.” She portrayed Sonia in The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
“They’re both incredible actors who have dug into these characters (Marilyn and Abby) and given them this life that is just remarkable,” Ms. Laris said.
The play’s name, “Ripcord,” makes sense since the plot involves Marilyn and Abby doing some skydiving. And Ms. Laris said the audience will see them jump safely off a plane on the stage, with sound effects completing the experience.
But the play’s name, “Ripcord,” goes beyond the parachuting experience.
“What does that mean, pulling the ripcord?” Ms. Laris said. “In a way, it’s about letting go, taking a moment to get out of your life, your normal everyday routine, to experience a level of freedom you haven’t felt before. That is the theme of this play.
“It’s about making changes in your life, taking risks and really getting out of your normal routine into something much better and much more connected with other people,” she continued.
Ms. Laris said “Ripcord” has a special meaning in light of the pandemic.
“At a time when we’ve all been so isolated, I think this play is the perfect antidote to remind us how important it is to be in a community with other people. The theater is the perfect place to engage with the community.”
She said “Ripcord” has shades of “The Odd Couple,” but added, “The level of friendship may be more beautifully encapsulated than how (playwright) Neil Simon did it.”
In “The Odd Couple,” Felix was the neat freak and Oscar, the slob. In “Ripcord,” the differences are deeper.
“Leslie’s character, Abby, has gone through some experiences that have left her very isolated from other people,” Ms. Laris said. “She’s very gruff with other people, but she’s very funny. She has a biting sense of humor. She’s a real reader, an intellect, but very guarded, very defensive. Her primary companions are her plants. Her main interactions are with nonhuman.
“Ann’s character, Abby, has a pretty big family and is manic, high-energy, positive, cheerful to a fault perhaps, has a giddy sense of humor and is engaged in many different activities,” Ms. Laris said. “She’s constantly moving. She has so many activities she’s doing that she’s constantly moving.”
Two people that different are bound to have conflicts, but they rise above them in “Ripcord.”
“Over the course of the play, they let their personality quirks go ultimately as they find a better way of relating to each other,” Ms. Laris said.
In addition to the main characters, “Ripcord” features actors who play multiple roles. Justin Davanzo plays the zombie butler at the haunted house, as well as Derek and the Masked Man in other scenes.
Shannon Saleh portrays Colleenand the Woman in White.
Justin Stark plays Benjamin, Lewis and the Clown.
Nicholis Sheley portrays Scotty, who, as shown in a photo accompanying this story, is apparently trying to break up a fight between Abby and Marilyn. (Remember to duck, Scotty!)
Pamela Shaw is the costume designer.
“There are lightning fast costume changes,” Ms. Laris said.
David Alexander Hewett is the production stage manager.
And Barbara Hirsch is the sound designer. “She’s working really hard to give you the experience of being up in a plane, jumping out of a plane and being in the haunted house,” Ms. Laris said.
Patrick L. Frank is busy as well as the play’s scenic and lighting designer.
Ms. Laris said the sets are elaborate.
“We have a motorized set in this case. We need to move thousands of pounds of platforms and equipment. We have all the apparatus for the women to be able to jump out of the plane,” Ms. Laris said.
“It’s all very complicated,” she said. “It couldn’t happen without our wonderful technical crew of students who run the shows. There are more people backstage than there are on stage. They have to be silent, and they have to work really quickly in the dark.
Ms. Laris added that The Theatre Group at SBCC is thrilled to be performing again in front of an in-person audience.
“The audience is such a huge part of it,” she said. “The audience brings this sense of energy that makes everyone work harder to communicate the story. It impacts every member of the company.
“Every actor who’s on stage feels supported by the emotions and thoughts of the audience. And there’s a huge crew on this show. There’s a lot of people you don’t see, but who are also impacted by the audience. It’s truly this relationship.”