Comedy with a Throbbing Heart: David Lindsay-Abaire on Ripcord

Abby has always had a quiet room to herself at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility in David Lindsay-Abaire’s new play Ripcord. If a new roommate was assigned to the second bed, Abby — cantankerous and private — quickly got them out. That is until enthusiastic, optimistic Marilyn arrives. Abby pleads with an orderly, “If I have to have someone in here, why can’t it be someone quiet? What about that woman without the voicebox? She seems nice.” But Abby finds that if she is going to get Marilyn out, she’ll have to do it herself, and the high-stakes bet that the two women make leads quickly to an all-out war of comic proportions.

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire began the play as a challenge to himself. Huntington audiences know him best for his Southie-set comic drama Good People and his Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole — but before those more serious plays, Lindsay-Abaire was known for writing absurdist comedies. His landmark 1999 hit Fuddy Meers takes the audience on a wild ride through one day in the life of an amnesiac abducted by a mysterious stranger. Lindsay-Abaire wrote a string of hits including Wonder of the World and Kimberly Akimbo.

“I started to wonder if I can combine that spirit of those old comedic plays with, hopefully, the craft that I’ve garnered over the years,” Lindsay-Abaire says. “Once the play started to take shape, I realized that I was also writing something that was harkening back to some of the first plays that I had seen and loved as a kid: I’m Not Rappaport, Lettice and Lovage, or The Gin Game, comedies about two characters of a certain age really going at it with each other. Those plays are really funny, but what I loved about them was that they were incredibly human. They had big throbbing hearts in the middle of them.”

As Lindsay-Abaire notes, the play is far from a simple comedy; the bet the women make is that Abby will make Marilyn feel anger before Marilyn can make Abby feel fear — and the laughs are grounded in that awareness. About director Jessica Stone, Lindsay-Abaire says, “Jessica understood immediately that this is ultimately not a play about jokes, it’s a play about two women at a crossroads who land in this place (which can often end up being the last stop for people at their age), and who choose to grab life and live it fully. Maybe even more fully than they did when they were younger, knowing how fleeting time is.”

That combination of light and dark, hope and fear is a touchstone in all of Lindsay-Abaire’s work, an attribute he credits to growing up in South Boston. “I know that I talked about this when the Huntington produced Good People, because it was set there, but I just think about growing up and how awful life could be for my friends and family. And yet, in order to get through these awful things, humor was used as a coping mechanism. No matter how terrible things got, there was always humor to fall back on. And also, sometimes things were so awful that they were funny, unfortunately. There was always this sort of interconnectedness between humor and tragedy because that’s just what life was. If I’m gonna write a comedy, it shouldn’t be a surprise that, underneath it, there’s pain and hurt and desperate need.”

Ripcord is also wildly theatrical, shot through with a verve and penchant for creating unbelievable moments onstage that is common in Lindsay-Abaire’s early comedies. Lindsay-Abaire embraces that collaborators will find the solutions to the incredible ideas he dreams up. “I try not to edit myself, because the collaborators that I have worked with in my career have solved any difficult challenge I presented to them,” he says. “And it’s theatre! So, you can have them leaping out of airplanes and skydiving. You put it in there and it gets solved, somehow. In my experience, the simpler the solution, the better it works.”

Lindsay-Abaire is also already hard at work on his next play, a return to the world of a recent hit. “It’s actually a prequel to Good People set in 1978,” he says “So I’m going back to the neighborhood and revisiting some of the characters from Good People. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I might change my mind.”


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