Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Writer
Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn explores the multifaceted ramifications of feminism for educated, “liberated” women over three different generations. Through an engaging ensemble of sharp-witted actors, the play examines feminism at more than just the “pro” angle, and the way that society misconstrues the term. It also explores the unexpected difficulty of actually trying to exist as equals in a romantic relationship, as the protagonist, Catherine Croll (Kate Shindle) laments.
Shannon Esper as Avery Willard provides an interesting and comic perspective as a hipster feminist 21-year-old who is clearly a product of today’s informed and yet disaffected generation. She is all at once completely self-assured in her femininity and yet totally helpless in matters of love, which she plays with subtle complexity. Her interesting position provides a contrast to the more traditional upbringing and views on feminism of Catherine and her friend Gwen Harper (Annie McNamara), who went to grad school together and now lead opposite lives. Shindle captivates as “rockstar feminist” Catherine, who is living an independent and exciting life, yet yearns for a family of her own as she returns home to care for her ill mother, Alice (Nancy E. Carroll). Carroll steals the show with her adorable yet brutally honest commentary. Harper is hilarious as Gwen, the stay-at-home mom who dreams of Catherine’s glamorous and unburdened lifestyle. All the female characters teeter on ironies of character that make the play engaging and comedic. The play climaxes when Catherine and Gwen attempt to swap lives, which seems a little hard to swallow at first, but unfolds quite interestingly as the second act explores this scenario.
At times the first act can feel like a feminist lecture course one might expect in a college setting, as Catherine literally teaches a course on feminism onstage. While feminists and those interested in feminist culture may find this interesting, it could also be alienating for some audiences. The first act in itself is much less theatrical then the second, when Catherine throws away her inhibitions and, ultimately, her class, to try to put her theories into practice. The Huntington Theatre Company succeeds in presenting an entirely contemporary play, with a realistic set and wonderfully subtle acting style to portray the realistic frustration today’s feminists feel. It explores the dilemmas women experience today by acknowledging the advances and flaws of the rising power of women in our society. For college students, it is at many points almost too real in the way it examines life during and after college, and the tension and fear all the characters feel is definitely palpable. An enjoyable, educational and thought-provoking theatre experience!