By Kathie Isaac-Luke

For The Union Democrat

Now playing at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia is Sierra Repertory Theatre’s hilarious and energetic play, “Ripcord.”

This comedy, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, follows the antics of two older women with wildly disparate personalities who find themselves assigned to a room together in an assisted-living facility.

Abby, played by Jan Leigh Herndon, is an embittered, acerbic woman who has alienated everyone in her sphere. But, there is method to her malice. Her negativity and unattractive personality have ensured that, up to the present, she has had a double room all to herself.

Her new roommate is the chirpy, optimistic Marilyn, played by Susan Denaker. Marilyn is so upbeat that Abby can hardly believe she is real, and thinks her Pollyannish attitude must be masking some diabolical motivation. As the audience will later learn, both women are harboring secret traumas, but exhibiting much different ways of coping with the aftermath.

While Abby is determined to displace her buoyant roommate, Marilyn has no intention of moving. At an impasse, the women agree to a bet. Marilyn will agree to change rooms if Abby can succeed in making her angry. However, if Marilyn can first scare the indifferent Abby, she must give up her more desirable bed by the window.

The women waste no time in applying their energies toward winning their bet and immediately go for the jugular. There is nothing off limits or sacred as they strive to achieve their individual goals. Although one could question their tactics, the women prove to be ingenious as they devise ever more clever and deviant plots to outdo each other. The unexpected ways they go about their mission provides much of the surprise and hilarity of the play.

The production is perfectly cast, and Herndon and Denaker create indelible characters who are not easily forgotten. They have great chemistry and complement one another in a compelling way. The strong supporting cast is also wonderful. In an engaging performance, Brett Mutter plays Scotty, the patient and sympathetic resident aide. Scotty wants to ensure peace and tranquility, but cannot help getting drawn into the women’s squabbles.

Betsy Moore, Gabriel Rodrigues and Austin Springer play multiple roles, but are most impressive, respectively, as Marilyn’s conspiratorial daughter and son-in-law and Abby’s estranged son. Thanks to the dynamic direction of Dennis Jones, the comedic timing is impeccable and the laughs plentiful.

Jones also designed the set, and the shared bedroom is vivid in its detail, from Abby’s plant display on the window ledge to Marilyn’s carefully decorated bulletin board. Most of the play takes place there, but there are a few forays outside the facility. Scene changes, which are both creative and effective, are achieved by the use of patterned curtains. There is a cleverly staged sky-diving expedition from which the play derives its title. And, a tour of a haunted house is central to the proceedings.

The costumes were designed by B. Benjamin Weigel and the styles and colors uniquely fit the personality of each character. The lighting by Peter Leibold helps bring each scene alive.

The play contains many moving moments, as there is real hurt beneath each woman’s carefully constructed façade. The play progresses toward a conciliatory note, as the women tentatively reach out to one another, but not without hints that more clashes await in the future.

With its excellent acting, pacing and unanticipated plot twists, this is a genuinely entertaining production. The audience on opening night were clearly enjoying themselves as evidenced by their frequent, hearty laughter. The play is not suitable for young children, as it contains some mature subject matter and language.

“Ripcord” runs through September 15 at the historic Fallon House in Columbia State Park. It is rated PG-13 for adult language and situations.

For tickets or more information, go online or call (209) 532-3120.