Review: ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ at Custom Made Theatre (****)

by Charles Kruger

From L to R: Don (Ryan Hayes) with is caught in a triangle with wife Gwen (Lauri Smith) and ex-girlfriend Teri Whipple. Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.
From L to R: Don (Ryan Hayes) is caught in a triangle with wife Gwen (Lauri Smith) and ex-girlfriend  Catherine (Teri Whipple). Photo Credit: Jay Yamada.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Many years ago, Catherine left Don behind in graduate school to accept an opportunity in London, although she asked him to join her. Instead of joining her, Don married their classmate, Gwen. Now, Catherine is a successful feminist academic, widely published and admired, while Don’s academic career has completely dried up, and he works for little pay as a dean of students at a minor university. Meanwhile, his wife, Gwen, has completely abandoned her professional ambitions to be a stay at home Mom.

Some months ago, Catherine drunk called her old classmates, needing to return to their home town and care for her mother. And, as the play opens, there she is.

The past, as Faulkner said, is never the past.

The two women: single professional and married homemaker, interested in the same man, provide playwright Gina Gionfriddo the opportunity to explore the history of feminism over an entire generation. The set up: Could the two women actually switch places? Could Gwen leave her husband and four-year-old daughter with academic Catherine and take off to New York with her theatre-loving, probably gay, thirteen year old son? Should she?

Add to the mix a teenage babysitter and Catherine’s highly opinionated and not-so-invalid mother, put them together in what amounts to a consciousness-raising group, leave them to discuss and manipulate the fate of the hapless Don and voila! You have all the ingredients for a feminist history lesson with intellectual weight, and a human comedy as light as a souffle. It is a difficult dish to conjure, but Gionfriddo succeeds.

But she doesn’t succeed alone. Obviously, director Leah S. Abrams loves this play, and she has treated every line and nuance with the utmost respect—nothing is lost. Working well as an ensemble, the five actors never let up on the laughs or the insights, and the relationships seem real in every situation. It is probably not possible for one actor among such pros to literally steal the show, but, if it were, the cup goes to Linda Ayres-Frederick who is wise and funny in equal parts and really knows how to get the most out of a prop (in this case, an ever-present pitcher of martinis).

This Pulitzer nominated play deserves its fine reputation, and Custom Made Theatre Company serves it up well.

“Rapture, Blister, Burn” continues at Custom Made Theatre through December 17. For further information click here

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Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here)
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“Rapture, Blister, Burn” by Gina Gionfriddo. Produced by Custom Made Theatre Company. Director: Leah S. Abrams. Scenic Designer: Austin Kottkamp. Lighting Designer: Maxx Kurzunski. Sound Designer: Ryan Short. Costume Designer: Stephanie Dittbern. 

Cast: 

Catherine: Teri Whipple. Gwen: Lauri Smith. Don: Ryan Hayes. Avery: Amanda Farbstein. Alice: Linda Ayres-Frederick. 

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