The sky diving metaphor implied by the title, "Ripcord," is apt because it's a very disorienting play.
Set in a senior living center, "Ripcord" starts out like a traditional, even retro comedy, along the lines of Neil Simon. Its "Odd Couple"-style characters are Abby (Alison Edwards), whose name rhymes with "crabby" for good reason, and chatty Marilyn (Mary Alette Davis), recently joined roommates in a senior living center. Marilyn's side of the room is festooned with family photos, mementos and children's drawings, whereas Abby's only (im)personal touch is a lithograph that even a La Quinta would reject as too hideous and generic.
As mismatched as a granny-square afghan thrown over an Eames chair, the pair are at odds before the play even begins and, probably, long after it ends. (In reference to people she might like to room with, Abby snaps at a nurse, "What about that woman without a voice box? She seems nice.") Most of "Ripcord" consists of them playing mean-spirited pranks on each other in an attempt to win a bet: If Abby triumphs, Marilyn moves out. If Marilyn wins, she gets the bed by the window.
That stuff is amusing but David Lindsay-Abaire, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his much stronger "Rabbit Hole," keeps shifting the tone of the play, which briefly becomes a farce, then an absurdist comedy along the lines of Craig Lucas' brilliant "Reckless," then a macabre comedy, then a social issue drama. It may not be possible to produce a version of this play that solves all of its tonal problems, so I give Sidekick Theatre credit for making so much of it work.
A lot of its success has to do with the versatile Edwards, who seems like she'd be at home in any of the modes of "Ripcord" if it would just pick one. The other five actors execute the scripts' twists and turns proficiently, but it has to be confusing to play characters who are broad but realistic in one scene but morph into cartoons in the next. Michael Hoover's scenic design faces similar challenges: His living center set anchors the early scenes in reality, which starts to seem like an unfortunate choice when "Ripcord" goes off the rails. But then Hoover gives us an image — from the sky diving excursion the title promises — that takes your breath away with its purity and loveliness.
I'd recommend "Ripcord" for that scene alone. But with its smart performances and frequently clever dialogue, the play has more going for it than the sky diving moment. You could almost think of this shape-shifting drama like that old saying about Minnesota's quick-changing weather: If you don't like what's happening at any given moment, wait five minutes.
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Who: By David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Tim Stolz.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 1 p.m. Wed.-Thu. Ends Nov. 21.
Where: Ives Auditorium, 11411 Masonic Home Drive, Bloomington.
Tickets: $25-$36, 612-440-7529 or sidekicktheatre.com.