Playwright Gina Gionfriddo makes feminist theory dramatic in her cunningly titled play, Rapture, Blister, Burn, now running at Little Fish Theatre. Smart people with the not-terribly-unusual angst of modern-day, everyday life, deal with regret, ennui, alcoholism and desire couched in terms of the ancient conundrum of gender, its dynamics, expectations and reality.
Three college chums re-enter each other’s lives after fourteen years. Catherine (Suzanne Dean) is a world-renowned writer whose beat is the circumstance of women world-wide. She is a feminist intellectual who deals with such issues, for example, as the emergence of slasher films, the death of privacy and torture porn as a response to the rise of the women’s lib movement that threatened male hegemony. In school, she was in love with Don (Patrick Rafferty), another high-powered student who, unfortunately, lacked the drive and staying power to achieve his potential. When Catherine launched her career and took a position in London, she begged Don to come along. Don chose instead to stay behind and marry Catherine’s roommate, Gwen (Christina Morrell), an undergraduate who left school to be a wife and mother.
Fourteen years later, Don is a beer-swilling, pornography-addicted, underachieving Dean of Discipline at the local college, while Gwen is a straight-laced recovering alcoholic. The marriage is bumpy, to say the least. When Catherine returns to town to look after her mother, Alice (Mary-Margaret Lewis), a recent heart attack victim, old love is rekindled leading to the expected dramatic conundrum. The lid comes off and the worms pour forth.
To earn some money while making sure her mom is okay, Catherine takes a job teaching a feminist seminar at the college. Since only two signed up for the class, she decides to hold it in her mother Alice’s living room. To her surprise one of the students is Gwen, who regrets never having finished college. The other student, Avery (sharp, audacious Kimmy Shields), has little regard for the women’s movement. She is a post-feminist, Twenty-First Century girl as fresh and as free-thinking as youth itself. The cast complete, the play launches into high gear as the seminar explores, in tab version, the rise of feminism and it opponent, sexism. The scenes are as entertaining as they are intellectually stimulating. Deeply affecting moments are interspersed with desperately needed comic relief. The excellent cast is as true as life and as intimate as could be desired with nary a false moment to be seen.
Smartly directed by Mark Piatelli, the show is handsomely mounted with scenic design by Phil Buono, lighting by Stacey Adams, excellent costumes by Marlee Delia, and the subtle sound design by Jessica Westerfield boasts a fine playlist, although Jack Jones’ version of “Wives and Lovers” is more tuneful, it wouldn’t have jived with the feminist nature of the show.
Dark, affecting and bodacious, Rapture, Blister, Burn is a hit. It runs through September 3 in rotating rep with The How and the Why, which opens on August 11 at Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. in San Pedro.