“Rapture, Blister, Burn” explores complex issues of gender roles


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]— Courtesy of dav.d photography
Gina Gionfriddo’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is playing at Salt Lake Acting Company this month. Centered around feminism, growing old and the evolution of gender roles, this show unabashedly addresses these uncomfortable issues in an equally comedic and thought-provoking manner.
Following her mother’s recent heart attack, Catherine (Tracie Merill-Wilson) takes a sabbatical from her prestigious career as a feminist literary critic to spend some quality time with her mother. Coincidentally, Catherine’s mother Alice (Jeanette Puhich) lives in the same town as her grad school friends Gwen (Nell Gwynn), an academic turned stay-at-home mom, and Don (Robert Scott Smith), an unaspiring dean now married to Gwen. As the three of them reunite after their long estrangement, they find themselves ruminating over their life decisions and asking, “What if?”
This dynamic brings to light the central theme of the play — what is more fulfilling, pursuing a career or child-rearing? Faced with the possibility of losing her mother, Catherine pines after Gwen’s motherhood. Meanwhile, confronted by a less than idyllic marriage as well as Catherine’s fame and fortune, Gwen questions her decision to settle down.
Desperate for something to do, Catherine decides to teach a class on the changing face of gender roles and the history of feminism. Upon discovering that her only students are Gwen and Avery (Stewart Fullerton), a 21-year-old girl on academic probation, she opts for a more informal setting, holding the class at her mother’s house. Catherine mediates Gwen and Avery’s opposing views, and their arguments are priceless.
Gionfriddo’s writing is simply exceptional. The dialogue is witty, the focus is pertinent to current social issues, and the plot is unpredictable and engaging. What really sets “Rapture, Blister, Burn” apart, though, is how Catherine’s class discussions elucidate feminist theory and how these concepts are then contextualized by the actions of characters from three different generations. From this, the question of theory vs. application emerges, and the audience is left to ponder the complex reality of gender roles.
The script’s immense potential is not squandered on this cast. Once they get into the meat of the play — namely, when the class discussions start — all the actresses shine. The U’s own senior, Fullerton, is hilarious, Gwynn is authentic, Merrill-Wilson nails every note in the emotional spectrum and Puhich rings true in her supporting role. Unfortunately, Smith is not as consistent as his counterparts, but once he falls into his stride he has his moments.
My main complaint with “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is that as the play draws to a close, the scenes grow much shorter. The relatively greater frequency of scene breaks towards the end is distracting and undermines the plot’s momentum, but this is a minor fault in an otherwise phenomenal play.
If you are not the type to be offended by swearing, lewd subject material or excessive drinking, I recommend you see this play regardless of your views towards feminism. The lively script and the skill of these actors are infectiously amusing. What’s more, Gionfriddo captures the voice and views of all three generations with a startling genuineness and approaches this weighty subject without bias or tedium. Catch “Rapture, Blister, Burn” at Salt Lake Acting Company from Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. or on Sunday at either 1 p.m. or 6 p.m. before its final showing on Nov. 16. Don’t forget to bring your UCard to get a student discount.
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