DON’T MISS the Huntington Theatre Company’s “RIPCORD” which just opened at the Calderwood Pavilion and has already been extended through July 2! David Lindsay-Abaire’s comedy is set in that most hilarious and freewheeling of all environments–an assisted living complex. Hang on, it involves two elderly women who find themselves roommates, but one of them can’t stand the other.  The sour-pussed Abby (Nancy E. Carroll) is forced to share a room with Marilyn (“Orange is the New Black” ‘s Annie Golden) a relentlessly chipper redhead who won’t shut up. This “odd couple” soon engage in a bet to see who can oust the other, and their room becomes a cuckoo’s nest of wild schemes and practical jokes. But the jokes eventually sneak up on some hard truths, and the surprising result is an utterly winning mix of hijinks and heart stirred by two supremely gifted actresses who elevate the preposterous to the poignant.

That said, it’s clear Lindsay-Abaire has never set foot in an assisted living residence.  Light years ahead of wheelchairs and dementia, Abby and Marilyn are quick on the uptake and trade barbs sitting cross-legged or jumping on their beds. Marilyn wears tights and high-heeled booties, while Abby, despite her stunted taste buds (the only evidence of old age) maintains a deadpan steeliness evidence of the perverse stamina required to make Marilyn crack. They both apparently take the same dose of medication brought round daily by nurse “Scotty” (an affable Ugo Chukwu) as if all institutionalized “old” people have the same ailments and are routinely medicated on the same schedule.

I overlooked these silly inaccuracies to make way for the deliberately absurd overlay that Lindsay-Abaire employs to comment on the existential dilemma we all face. These two are deeply enmeshed as they push each other’s buttons; in between scenes, they literally break into hilarious little dances with each other, tangos and foxtrots, as they transition from scene to scene, inching toward the inevitable falling out. At one point an outing to a haunted house where Scotty is also an “actor” underscores the darkness that lurks at the edges of life, and the roles we invent in confronting what scares and angers us. The play straddles this tragicomic divide with humor and grace; a fluid set with some of the most ingenious video projections ever, takes us to the heavens and back, while Jessica Stone directs it all with fleet precision. 

Finally, though, it all hangs on this marvelous cast. Laura Latreille, Eric T. Miller, and Richard Prioleau are perfect as offspring and in-law, while Carroll and Golden reach out and pull us right in, kicking up their heels, fighting like mad to hold on, as they and we lurch toward the brink. We all know where this is going–but RIPCORD provides a jolt and a gentle landing as we slowly make our way down. See RIPCORD At the HUNTINGTON THEATRE’s second stage at the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion THROUGH JULY 2.

MUST SEE: ARRABAL which transforms the mainstage at the American Repertory Theater into a cafe where tango dancers move us through Argentina’s tragic late 20th century political history, focusing on the tale of one daughter, Arrabal (Micaela Spina, who exudes a rare combination of innocence and sensuality) and her longing for a father who was among the 30,000 “disappeared” political dissidents kidnapped and killed by a brutal military dictatorship. This U.S. premiere was created in Buenos Aires and packs a visceral charge against a moody, evocative scenic design. Tony-nominated Sergio Trujillo directs and co-choreographs with Julio Zurita to a book by Tony-nominated John Weidman, and set to a haunting and voluptuous score by Gustavo Santaolalla.  ARRABAL is life, death, and sex in a whirl of arms and legs, heart and soul, pain and catharsis, dancers weaving in and out among the audience with extraordinary onstage musicians ORQUESTA BAJOFONDEROS who are an evening unto themselves. I was spellbound for 90 minutes after which the dancers took our hands, inviting the audience to join them on stage, a few steps closer to the history they have lived and we have just witnessed. MUST SEE  “ARRABAL” at the AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER’s Loeb Drama Center  through June 18!