“Feminism” is one of those words that is loaded with connotations, both positive and negative. So you’d expect that a play about three generations of women discussing feminism would be rife with strong opinions and uncomfortable silences. Therefore it’s truly remarkable that the writer of “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” Gina Gionfriddo, managed to make such a fiery situation humorous, thought-provoking and uplifting.
In “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” playing at the Salt Lake Acting Company, the audience gets invited into an academic — and also very personal — conversation as three waves of feminism crash upon each other when old friends reunite and old grudges rise to the surface. Catherine (Tracie Merrill-Wilson) teaches a summer feminism course to Gwen (Nell Gwynn) and Avery (Stewart Fullerton) as Catherine’s mother, Alice (Jeanette Puhich), joins in the conversations with martinis. The alcohol in this play lubricates some strong disagreements and deep resentments between the three generations. Don’t be confused — even though this is a play about gender politics, it takes the serious and makes it hilarious.
Stewart Fullerton, a senior in the Musical Theatre Program, really flexed her acting chops with this performance. Every line she spoke fit perfectly with her delivery because she demonstrated a complete understanding of the character. Fullerton brought sass to the role, which makes the character funny and caustic, yet she also reveals just a touch of honest confusion towards her own relationships, which brought a vulnerable complexity to the performance. The entire cast is talented, and they played off of each other well. Don’t get too convinced by the chemistry between Catherine and Don (Robert Scott Smith) because the added chemistry between Don and Gwen makes for one of the most painful love triangles I’ve ever seen.
The design elements of this production all fit together fairly well. The set design is minimalistic — just a few furniture pieces set the scene, mood and accented the color palette created by the lighting. Minimalism is a great choice for this production because it didn’t distract from the strong acting and smart writing.
The costumes blended with the other elements for the most part, but ultimately seemed inconsistent. Avery’s costume in particular seemed exaggerated in comparison to others, so much so that it seemed like it belonged more in a different play about anxious teens, and wasn’t accurately representing the character as a 20-something college student. I felt the costumes distracted from the acting because the choices weren’t in line with other elements of the production.
For this production SLAC has joined with Crossroads Urban Center to improve the lives of low-income people in the Salt Lake Valley. When you go to see this show, please bring along canned food or baby formula to donate — financial donations are also acceptable. Glenn Bailey, the executive director at Crossroads, said that “Crossroads Urban Center operates one of Utah’s busiest emergency food pantries.” It’s a great way to start the giving season by donating to this organization when you attend a performance of “Rapture, Blister, Burn.”
“Rapture, Blister, Burn” will run until Nov. 16 at the Salt Lake Acting Company, located at 168 West 500 North. It plays Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m. Student subscriptions are available — call (801) 363-7522 for more information.