In its newest production — “Ripcord,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire — the Penobscot Theatre is tackling a subject that many of its patrons are experiencing themselves: the fine art of growing older.
“Ripcord,” which opens Thursday and runs through March 31, tells the story of two wildly different women, Abby and Marilyn, who find themselves unexpectedly rooming together at their upscale retirement community. The plot centers around Abby and Marilyn’s mutual dislike of one another, which comes to a head as the pair decide to make a bet about who can frighten or annoy the other enough into moving out — or staying put.
Penobscot Theatre artistic director Bari Newport takes the directing reins with the show. She chose “Ripcord” for this season because of the quality of the script, the depth of the main characters and the acidic, fast-paced wordplay — a hallmark of the comedies of Lindsay-Abaire, such as “Fuddy Meers” and “Wonder of the World.”
“It’s such a great script that’s really funny and full of heart,” Newport said. “They go skydiving in the show. There’s a haunted house scene. It’s just a ton of fun.”
Starring as the tough, abrasive, imperious Abby is Danielle Kennedy, who previously played the role of matriarch Violet in Penobscot Theatre Co.’s acclaimed production of “August: Osage County.” Newport was looking for a vehicle to show off Kennedy’s many talents; she’s a veteran of stage and screen who had a supporting role in the hit Netflix series “Narcos.”
“I knew this was something Danielle could do an amazing job with,” Newport said. “It’s just a great role for her and for Sara.”
Starring as the bubbly, upbeat Marilyn is Penobscot Theatre newcomer Sara Morsey, a company member at both The Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville, Florida, and the Florida Repertory Theatre.
Together, Kennedy and Morsey play a pair of mismatched frenemies who bring to mind other famous theatrical pairs: Oscar and Felix from “The Odd Couple,” Weller and Fonsia from “The Gin Game,” and the title characters from “Lettice and Lovage.” Or, for a more contemporary couple, Kennedy and Morsey’s characters evoke comparisons to Grace and Frankie from the Netflix show of the same name, or Sandy and Norman from “The Kominsky Method,” another recent Netflix hit. You could even throw Dorothy and Rose from “The Golden Girls” in there, for good measure.
“Our costume designer, Kevin, actually used ‘Grace and Frankie’ as his jumping off point when designing for the show,” Newport said. “These are women that may be considered old, but in their minds, they are exactly the same people they were 30 years ago. They’re just trying to figure life out like the rest of us.”
Rounding out the cast are Penobscot Theatre regulars Allen Adams, Brad LaBree, Ben Layman and Jen Shepard, all of whom are old hands at comedic plays, having appeared in previous productions including “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel” and “Shear Madness.”
“It’s absolutely a comedy, and a really sharp, witty one, but it’s also a play that deals with some big themes,” Newport said. “What do we want our lives to look like when we get older? Who do want to spend that time with? It explores those ideas, but in a really hilarious way.”
“Ripcord” runs Wednesdays through Sundays, March 14-31, at the Bangor Opera House. For tickets, call 942-3333.