Credit: Ben Crop

In her curtain speech, director Katie Laris promised “a play about getting unstuck.” And this was true because, for the characters and the audience, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord at SBCC was a gift of freedom, from months of isolation and from the anxieties that beset us all in the face of mortality. The plot of Ripcord is shaped by an unusual wager, but the bet only gives visibility to an all-too-common conflict simmering below the surface between Abby (Leslie Ann Story) and Marilyn (Ann Dusenberry). Assigned to share a room at a retirement home, the two become locked in a battle between contradictory world views, a passionate skirmish at the frontiers of acceptable behavior that frequently surges over into outrage and scandal.

The sharp angles of the script and the steady performances of the actors keep the audience on their toes as advantage shifts unexpectedly in this dynamic battle of wills. Marilyn can’t show anger, and Abby can’t admit fear. Together they imagine each other’s worst nightmares, then commit them as practical jokes. Escalation is the norm — no good deed is left unpunished, never mind the pranks.

Dusenberry and Story are terrific in the leading roles. Abby is mean, and Marilyn’s competitive nature draws her deep into the web of mischief woven by her nemesis. Yet somehow, deep in that tangled place of trauma and revenge, out of real emotional distress, hope emerges. Ripcord tugs at the heartstrings and addresses the emotions it provokes with wisdom and heart. Everyone in the cast, including the two Justins, Davanzo and Stark, Nicholis Sheley, and Shannon Saleh, who plays Marilyn’s daughter Colleen, are to be commended for this outstanding first step back for drama in Santa Barbara.

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on February 16, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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