Actor’s Theater Presents “Rapture Blister Burn”

Actors’ production of Rapture Blister Burn opened the weekend of March 17, and has three performances scheduled March 24-26. Michelle Urbane directed the cast of five which includes Linnae Caurdy, Jon Clausen, Sydney Doornbos, Lindsey Hansen, and Bernie Houseward. Written by Gina Gionfriddo, the play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The story unfolds over several weeks of early summer during which three reunited college friends ruminate over the state of their lives, and the decisions that led up to their current circumstances. Its like The Heidi Chronicles, meets The Big Chill and The Breakfast Club. Chronicles’ protagonist is also a scholar wistfully approaching mid-life (at least as I remember the play). The trio of friends share a complicated history, like Big Chill, and as was true of Breakfast Club, every character reveals him/herself to be more complex and self-aware than we initially believed.

Catherine Croll (Caurdy) is a successful feminist scholar who takes a sabbatical, ostensibly to care for her mother. As the story progresses it seems that Alice Croll’s condition provided a convenient excuse for Catherine to take a hiatus from her current life. Her ex-boyfriend Don Harper (Clausen), a dean at a “fourth-rate liberal arts college”, helps her secure a temporary position for the fall semester, but Catherine is anxious to fill her time with something other than drinking and doting over her mother, so he manages to arrange an independent study for the summer. The class participants are her former best friend Gwen (Hansen), who is married to Don, and Avery (Doornbos), a student at the college, and the Harper’s recently-fired babysitter. Since there’s only two students, the class meets at the home of Alice Croll (Houseward).

Rapture Blister Burn Production Shot 2
Gwen, Avery, and Catherine, meet for their first class session. Production still from “Rapture Blister Burn” Photo credit: Dave Kagan

Alice and Avery act as bookends to Gwen and Catherine’s more nuanced opinions, with the unwitting catalyst Don sandwiched in the middle. Writings by Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Julia Kristeva, are discussed as they relate to second wave feminism and cinema, but the conversations become more pointed when an essay by feminist obstructionist Phyllis Schafly is introduced into the course. The play effectively examines three generations of gender politics, but that’s just one layer of the story.

Rapture addresses the ideologies we choose to apply to ourselves and others; sometimes these are dogmatic, sometimes they’re mythologies perpetuated without basis. Avery, at times wise beyond her years says, “We all have personal mythologies we cherish. The people we love go along with them but understand they are never going to happen.” I appreciated that over the course of the play every character challenges something within their own set of beliefs, but instead of regarding them as hypocrites, they become more sympathetic individuals.

Rapture Blister Burn Production Shot 3
Catherine, Don, and Gwen, opening scene from “Rapture Blister Burn”
Photo credit: Dave Kagan

Even if you’re not approaching middle age and questioning some of your life choices, the plot is beautifully twisted, the dialog is intelligent, and the acting is great.

Now in its 35th season, Actor’s Theatre has a solid history of delivering exceptional theatrical productions in Grand Rapids. I highly recommend you attend a performance and consider committing to a season subscription.

Actors’ Theatre
Spectrum Theater, 160 Fountain Street NE
Tickets are available www.atgr.org or through the box office (616) 234-3946
$28 for adults, $22 students & seniors, $10 student rush (available one hour prior to performances)

All photo credits, Dave Kagan

-by Tamara Fox

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