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Girls Nite Out Takes a Leap With 'Ripcord'

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Betsy Conlon (left) and Janet Stambolian - COURTESY OF GIRLS NITE OUT
  • Courtesy Of Girls Nite Out
  • Betsy Conlon (left) and Janet Stambolian

For its fall production, Burlington theater company Girls Nite Out presents Ripcord, a 2015 work by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Abbie Tykocki, the show is at GNO's usual performance space, the Main Street Landing Black Box Theater in Burlington. Amid a deluge of daily political drama, Ripcord is a refreshing comedy about two retirement-home roommates, Abby and Marilyn.

The odd-couple template for the show is simple and familiar: Abby (Janet Stambolian) is content to live alone and generally hates people; Marilyn (Betsy Conlon) is a ray of sunshine who finds her curmudgeonly roommate just darling. To settle their differences, they make a bet that pushes them to such lengths as jumping out of a plane. It seems these stubborn old birds will stop at nothing to put one over on the other.

This is GNO's ninth production since its inception in 2010. Stambolian and Jennifer Warwick founded the company because, as Warwick puts it, "There were no strong female roles out there for us." So they produced Steel Magnolias and, since then, have put on shows that feature not only female actors but, whenever possible, female playwrights, directors and production teams, as well.

This is Tykocki's first directorial project for GNO, but she brings to the task previous experience with Lyric Theatre, Stowe Theatre Guild, the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival and Vermont Stage. When she's not choreographing senior citizen aerial leaps, Tykocki is the director of marketing and public relations for Burlington Telecom.

Selecting this year's GNO production proved a challenge for the team — its members still had not decided on a script the day before they were to present it to the board. "But we read Ripcord at five o'clock the night before the meeting, and it was so obvious that this was the script," Warwick recalls.

Tykocki describes the show as "a play that really makes you care about the characters." She adds, "I've always wanted to direct shows about the human condition, and this play does that without sacrificing any comedy."

Lindsay-Abaire is not a female playwright, but he certainly seems to get strong women. He's perhaps best known for his 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole, which was later adapted to film and starred Nicole Kidman. Rabbit Hole examined a couple's grief after the tragic death of their 4-year-old son. Ripcord strikes a very different tone yet still contains sincere reflections on life.

"It asks the question: Is it ever too late to have an adventure, to change your life, to make amends?" Tykocki explains. "But it's not too sentimental. It's really funny and sometimes shockingly crass."

Ripcord was first produced in 2015 at the Manhattan Theatre Club. (Vermont fun fact: David Hyde Pierce directed the world premiere. His nephew, Randal Pierce, is the music director of the Vermont Stage production of Fun Home, which also opens this week.)

Ripcord is fairly straightforward, but it does offer one notable staging challenge: the scene in which Abby and Marilyn jump out of a plane. Tykocki's tricks won't be revealed here, but theatergoers can look forward to the cast's collaboration with Vermont Skydiving Adventures in West Addison, which provided both inspiration and visual aids for the scene.

As the two protagonists prepare to jump, their skydiving instructor shouts, "So long as you stay connected to one another, you have nothing to be afraid of. Slow yourself down and look around while you can."

These lines could sum up the entire show's message. It's uncommon that such a saccharine moral could be conveyed with humor and grit, but with this solid script, Girls Nite Out has the template to deliver both.


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The original print version of this article was headlined "With Ripcord, Girls Nite Out Takes a Flying Leap"

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