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Review: Rapture, Blister, Burn at Theatre on the Square

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I am still trying to decide if Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gianfriddo is depressing or encouraging. Either way, the TOTS production of it is my favorite kind of live theater: layered, nuanced, thought-provoking. I saw it twice last weekend.

Internationally successful scholar Catherine Croll (Carrie Ann Schlatter) drunk-dialed her now married college boyfriend, Don Harper (Clay Mabbitt), one night after a long silence and talked to his wife, Gwen Harper (Kimberly Ruse-Roberts), another college friend. Cathy doesn’t remember everything she said to Gwen but she knows she wanted her ex’s help getting a teaching job in their town so that she could be near her mother, Alice Croll (Bridget Schlebecker), who just had a heart attack. Don is the pot-smoking dean of the local community college but his sober alcoholic wife keeps his to-do list. After listening to Cathy’s blackout pleas, Gwen added Cathy to Don’s list.
From left, Clay Mabbit, Kimberly Ruse-Roberts and Carrie Ann Schlatter in Rapture, Blister, Burn. - ZACH ROSING
  • Zach Rosing
  • From left, Clay Mabbit, Kimberly Ruse-Roberts and Carrie Ann Schlatter in Rapture, Blister, Burn.

When the play opens, the three reunited friends are about to go out to eat. Unfortunately, the babysitter (Avery Willard, played by Megan Medley) for Don and Gwen’s toddler arrives with a black eye. Gwen tells Don to pay her and send her home, rather than have their son think that violence against women is no big deal. Before Avery leaves, though, Gwen tells her to ask Cathy about her bestselling books - one on feminist politics and pornography, the other on the rise of degradation as entertainment.

The next day, both women are signed up for Cathy’s new summer seminar on “ The Fall of American Civilization,” which will be held in Cathy’s mother’s home so that Alice can share martinis with them at the cocktail hour and also serve as the voice of an older generation as they talk about everything from pornography to reality TV to torture horror films. Meanwhile, Cathy and Don have started to “catch up” on their own and everyone is re-examining his or her life choices so far.
From left, Megan Medley, Clay Mabbitt and Carrie Ann Schlatter in Rapture, Blister, Burn.
  • From left, Megan Medley, Clay Mabbitt and Carrie Ann Schlatter in Rapture, Blister, Burn.

The ensemble under Rob Johansen’s direction is excellent.Each actor manages to represent a whole generation while remaining a fully unique human being. I may go back a third time just to enjoy their work again.

There are a lot of great lines in the writing, too. For example, when young Avery declares first-wave feminism boring even though it was about getting women the vote she says something like, “People used to think the world was flat, too. They were wrong. We’ve moved on.” I still agree with middle-aged Cathy that that history is interesting, but Avery’s words made me laugh.

I guess this is a feminist play, whatever that means, but it is about so much more than labels or “men vs. women.” It is about what you can outsource in life and what you can’t. It is also about whether you want the security of a dog collar or the freedom of a wolf.

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