To boil a potentially meaningful argument into banality: modern feminist theatre can be pretty cool. By which I mean, a lot of its makers take the stance that if you’re going to bung a load of theory and intellectual exposition into your work, then you probably want to use a hipper, more provocative medium than a couple of characters talking for two hours (see this week’s NT show ‘Blurred Lines’, for instance).
US playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ is completely uncool. Well, not completely: it’s often very funny. But in the second scene it whumps you over the head with a lengthy, unabashedly untheatrical discourse on the second wave of feminism from the play’s four female characters.
It’s a scene based on a tenuous premise: Catherine (Emilia Fox) is a hotshot feminist academic who has taken a year out to look after her mum (Polly Adams) and is teaching a summer class to keep busy. And guess what? The only two people to sign up are her erstwhile best friend Gwen (Emma Fielding), and Avery (Shannon Tarbet), the sassy 21-year-old who Gwen fired in the first scene.
I really liked it: ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ has no sense of self-importance, but is a witty, unsentimental piece that sacrifices a certain polish in order to fully articulate tricksy questions about how one should live one’s life in these enlightened times.
Amid all the talking, a plot of sorts kicks in, when Catherine and Gwen decide to swap lives. In the resulting farrago, Gionfriddo quite reasonably seems to argue that total happiness is a preposterous idea, and that that’s okay.
It’s powered by some great performances: Fox is kind, charismatic and subtly fragile, Tarbet scene-stealingly bratty, Adam James heartbreakingly shlubbish as Gwen’s husband Don. Under Peter DuBois’s relaxed direction, ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ gains momentum but never tries to make a crisis out of a domestic drama.
Instead Gionfriddo simply trusts that her play will hold our interest through the batting around of awkward questions. And she’s right.
By Andrzej Lukowski