ENSEMBLE’S ‘RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN’

Gina Gionfriddo’s play is deserving of its selection as a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for many reasons. Firstly, it’s tapped into a real currency of topic about feminism, violence, promiscuity and pornography. Secondly, it nails the existentialist dilemma for women of career or family. Thirdly, it explores the mother and child relationship and its own crisis of identity and finally, it explores loss and discovery- of love, of idealism and of our finite existence.

They say (well, I’ve been known to say) that good material will do most of the work for you and this is excellent material. I’ve just taken a fruitless search into trying to buy the script online so I can enjoy it all over again, highlight sections and start posting them on Facebook to annoy my friends. Lucky for director Sandra Bates that she chose well in ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ and generally cast it well and then shaped it so it could do its work.

It truly is a joy to watch a play that entertains as it informs. I’m certainly now more educated on feminist theory and the parallels of horror films to the women’s movement and the division of feminism in regards to pornography and even though the play is contrived into lessons to nut out all this theory, it cleverly weaves this into the developing and changing relationships of the women and man of the play. The theories of women at work versus women at home are a bit hackneyed and cliched but it does allow for the play to take us somewhere different in the second half that puts it all into perspective. 

There were a few times when I thought the play had enormous resonance for me in its dialogue and banter. I guess as an orphaned, childless, unmarried woman in her 40’s (otherwise known as a bitter barren old spinster) some of the lines in regards to “no-one will love you like your mother does” and “your life doesn’t begin until your mother dies” are freakishly close to the bone. What becomes apparent as the play progresses is that for many women, mentoring is the new motherhood and this perhaps best describes the relationship between childless protagonist Cathy Croll (Georgie Parker) and Avery Willard (Chloe Bayliss).

What is probably the least sympathetic role is that of Gwen Harper (Anne Tenney) and her husband Don (Glenn Hazeldine). Perhaps if I had kids, the portrayal of the homemaker as a desperate, jealous and controlling manipulator might have angered me. Instead I breathed a sigh of relief that it was not a reflection of me.

The production itself was a faithful rendition of the play. Graham Maclean’s New England styled home got the job done and Bates has played with proxemics in how close the actors got to the audience whilst still maintaining that fourth wall, which didn’t always help sightlines but did allow for interesting dynamics on stage.

But mostly, the cast managed to bring dimensions to these roles, driven by Georgie Parker and especially Chloe Bayliss, who not only got most of the good lines but delivered them with sass and perfect comic timing. It is the insights that her character Avery brings that allow us to identify with her as an audience because the more she learns and the more she sees, the more critical she is of that information and relationship, just as the writer wants us to be. In many ways, she becomes the most mature character on stage by the end of the play.

Diane Craig (Alice Croll) as Cathy’s mother had great moments on stage and the relationship between Craig and Parker was utterly convincing as mother and daughter. Hazeldine’s Don was a terrific portrayal of the middle-aged lost boy who not only fails to live up to his potential and by having a wife who is thoroughly disappointed in him, he doesn’t have to be disappointed in himself. He can be the poor, hard-done-by, nagged husband. He can be viewed as the victim and our sympathies then fall with him, which is a fascinating study of gender roles once again.

It was only Anne Tenney who I thought didn’t deliver as strongly as the others. I felt her journey never quite rung true on stage and her character was slightly over-played in expression, accent and timing and therefore came off as contrived.
However, I’d happily sit through this play again for the writing alone and for women everywhere, this should be mandatory viewing. Maybe take your men folk too and dive into a history of feminist theory and gender relationships discussion post-show if you can. 

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