SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake Acting Company has yet again produced a brilliantly thought-provoking comedy with Rapture, Blister, Burn. Gina Gionfriddo’s script mingles academic discussions of the different waves of feminism with microcosmic examples of their application in the four women’s lives in ways that had me laughing out loud.
Catherine is an author and Ivy League professor of feminism in popular culture. When she takes a sabbatical to care for her aging mother, she finds herself living in the same town as her graduate school ex-boyfrend and her former roommate who married him. Within a few days in the small town, Catherine is desperate for ways to keep herself busy and winds up teaching a summer seminar on the history of feminism to only two attendees: Gwen, Catherine’s former roommate/romantic rival; and Avery, and the babysitter Gwen fired most recently.
What follows is a fast-paced journey through three generations of feminism, as embodied in literature as well as the lives of Catherine’s elderly mother Alice (Jeanette Puhich); the middle-aged working woman Catherine (Tracie Merill-Wilson); the middle-aged stay-at-home mother Gwen (Nell Gwynn); and the college-age Avery (Stewart Fullerton). Each hoped that their particular brand of feminism would lead to the most positive romantic outcomes, and Gwen’s husband/Catherine’s ex-boyfriend Don (Robert Scott Smith) found himself the unlucky victim of their experiments.
Each actor had the perfect comic timing that’s vital for such a dialogue-heavy script. I laughed out loud throughout the entirety of the play, and I don’t remember a single joke falling flat. I was particularly impressed by the show’s pacing, provided by director Adrianne Moore and assistant director Heidi Olsen. Rapture, Blister, Burn could have easily been a show that dragged with so many conversations taking place in sitting rooms. But instead, the play was fast-paced, and I was engrossed in the dialogue from start to finish
Brenda Van Der Wiel’s costume design perfectly complements each character. Don wears the jeans and casual-verging-on-ragged shirts typical of a career-academic-verging-on-vagabond. While Catherine also works in academia, her dresses and slacks give her the air of a put-together Ivy League scholar. Gwen wears the casual, yet stylish, wardrobe of a stay-at-home-mom. Avery’s wardrobe was half hipster, half punk. And Alice wore the dressy casual clothes of a woman aging well. These costume choices seemed natural for each character and also showed Van Der Wiel’s attention to the characters’ differing backgrounds and mindsets.
The stage was set with faux-stone flooring and five wooden shingled panels around the edges, which gave the impression of suburban rooftops (set design Keven Myhre). The rest of the set consisted of various living room and patio furniture that was moved on and off stage between scenes to represent the different homes of Catherine and Gwen. The lighting and sound design were flawlessly used in each scene and during transitions (light design by James M. Craig; sound design by Shea Madson).
Rapture, Blister, Burn delivered one laugh after another despite, or perhaps because of, its heavy subject matter. While the play covered a lot of ground, in terms of both plot and academia, no particular feminist philosophy was ultimately shoved down the audience’s throat. Instead, I left with a broadened view of feminist history and of the men and women (i.e., all of us) who have been touched by it.