The cast of “Rapture, Blister, Burn” poses post show. Photo courtesy of University Relations
Theatergoers on the weekend of Feb. 22 saw the Chi Box theater transformed into a close and intimate backdrop for the University of Montevallo Theater Department’s production of “Rapture, Blister, Burn.” Gina Gionfriddo’s 2014 work was performed in a single, rustic inspired set using several arrangements of furniture.
“Rapture, Blister, Burn” follows the complex story of the cross section of suburban life, academia and the state of modern feminism. The story follows an unhappy couple Don, played by Isaac Webster, an unmotivated, pretentious pornography addict married to Gwen, played by Alana Angrisano, a downtrodden housewife with a half finished bachelor’s degree and a recently kicked drinking habit.
The show begins its motion with the introduction of Catherine, played by Cadley Jackson, a long time friend of the couple and a previous flame of Don’s. Catherine found academic success where Don and Gwen had stagnated in order to start a family.
The course of the show not only follows the trio, but the lives of Avery, a college student living a young and free sort of lifestyle, played by Maggie Connick, and Alice, Catherine’s ailing, old fashioned mother, played by Kassie Couch, whose health had brought Catherine back to New England in the first place.
Over the course of the play, the audience follows a small, informal class on feminism and feminine roles in pop culture taught by Catherine and attended solely by Gwen and Avery. The class not only serves to present the thematic ideas that make up the play, but also offers a backdrop for a quick and passionate affair between Catherine and Don.
Once the affair inevitably comes to light, Gwen and Catherine make a deal. The terms of the agreement involve them essentially switching lives, Gwen moves into Catherine’s New York apartment and Catherine stays in the suburbs with Don.
As the play itself unfolds, Gionfriddo’s academic background becomes starkly clear. The content, while primarily focusing on the characters’ particular situations, was laden with social theory and commentary. Despite making interesting points intellectually, the play often seemed to strain under its own intellectual weight.
The dialogue felt stilted at times, often coming across more like a lecture than a play. Scenes where this issue most immediately presented itself were focused on Catherine’s class. More academic syntax would be appropriate in such scenes, but the sheer length and density of the material covered often took away from being a more direct commentary on the rest of the play, but tended to stand as its own lecture within the more dramatic content.
One such scene toward the beginning of Act One went on for over half-an-hour on topics in historical feminism. While the subject matter was related to the underlying themes of the play, much of these themes could be left to the audience to infer instead of being thoroughly explained for a large portion of the act.
Overall, while “Rapture, Blister, Burn” contained thought provoking material as well as some touching themes, the actual content of the play often proved to be heavy handed nearly to the point of condescension to the audience.
Let it be known, however, that a good cast can make any script shine, and the students comprising the cast of “Rapture, Blister, Burn” took an otherwise flawed play to another level. Scenes plagued by the dryness of academic debate were lightened, esoteric concepts were given life, and an overall difficult and often cynical script was allowed to put its best foot forward.
Several complex character relationships were handled particularly well. The intensity between Don and Catherine was well mirrored by the growing animosity Alana Angrisano played through Gwen toward Catherine. Each actor contributed excellently to the palpable tension which pervaded a majority of the play’s scenes.
By the end of the play, things return to the status quo. Gwen and Don decide to return to a mediocre marriage while Catherine and Avery strikeout to New York together, renewed in their purpose.
While the play was, at points, lacking; attendees left with a wealth of academic material to digest and a bright and memorable performance on part of the University Theater Department.