‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ at Round House Theatre

Consistent with its mission to “captivate audiences with stories that inspire compassion, evoke emotions, and demand conversation,” Round House Theatre welcomed back DC native, award-winning playwright and acclaimed television writer Gina Gionfriddo to its 2014/15 season with her 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist piece Rapture, Blister, Burn, which made its area premiere in Bethesda with its press night opening last night.

Michelle Six (Catherine Croll), Helen Hedman (Alice Croll), and Maggie Erwin (Avery Willard) in Round House Theatre’s current production of Rapture, Blister, Burn. Photo by Danisha Crosby.
Michelle Six (Catherine Croll), Helen Hedman (Alice Croll), and Maggie Erwin (Avery Willard) in Round House Theatre’s current production of Rapture, Blister, Burn. Photo by Danisha Crosby.

Directed by Acting Artistic Director of Theater J, Shirley Serotsky, and set on Daniel Conway’s beautifully gliding stage, Rapture, Blister, Burn is an incredibly intelligent and incisive social dramedy that expounds upon the idea that although women today seemingly have more choices than ever before, women still struggle with evolving attitudes toward marriage and career. Through the attitudes of three generations of bright women, each chronicling her take on the progression of feminism, Rapture (which takes its title from lyrics in Courtney Love’s song, “Use Once and Destroy”) cleverly lampoons women’s notions of modern freedom and independence, leading the audience on an entertaining and enlightening journey of the road not taken.

“I am thrilled to be working on this magnificent play that poses questions about family, happiness, and relationships in a way that is super-contemporary, fresh and funny. It both speaks to, and challenges, my deepest beliefs as a feminist—and I appreciate and value that dialectic,” Serotsky said.

After grad school, Catherine (Michelle Six) built a career as a rock-star academic while Gwen (Beth Hylton) built a home with a husband and two children. Decades later, unfulfilled in contrasting ways, each woman covets the other’s life, examining the very different choices they made, the consequences of those choices and the lament and disenchantment that inevitably ensue when they begin to suspect they have chosen incorrectly.

Estranged for more than 10 years, former roommates Catherine and Gwen, both 40-something women, have begun to question their individual life choices, are reunited and perceives the grass to be greener on the other side. Single Catherine, a feminist scholar, successful author and occasional TV pundit known as the “hot doomsday chick,” has achieved professional success but regrets not having a husband and children. Those regrets are, in part, amplified by her increasing fear of losing her widow mother (Helen Hedman) and being left alone. Conversely, restless, stay-at-home mom Gwen left school without finishing her doctorate and married Don (Tim Getman), who first dated Catherine then took up with Gwen after Catherine accepted a year-long fellowship in London. Like Catherine, Gwen is experiencing that “forty-something thing where you start thinking about the life not lived.” Unfulfilled, Gwen considers resuming work on her Ph.D.

Michelle Six (Catherine Croll) and Tim Getman (Don Harper) in Round House Theatre’s current production of Rapture, Blister, Burn.  Photo by Danisha Crosby.
Michelle Six (Catherine Croll) and Tim Getman (Don Harper) in Round
House Theatre’s current production of ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn.’  Photo by Danisha Crosby.

Under Serotsky’s astute direction, which hones in on Gionfriddo’s whip-witty banter, the cast colorfully brings each of Gionfriddo’s characters to life. Michelle Six’s rendition of Catherine is wholly credible as a successful but lonely academic and author who briskly smart but equally emotional and expressive.

Beth Hylton’s Gwen evinces a tenacious spirit that leads her to make a provocative proposition to Catherine about how both of them could reorder their lives to the greater satisfaction of all. And, Maggie Erwin is terrific as the snarky and outspoken Avery, Don and Gwen’s opinionated baby sitter, who does not shy from speaking her mind about just how and why her elders have screwed up their lives.

With intense insight intriguingly incrusted with Gionfriddo’s hallmark wit, Rapture, Blister, Burn satirically questions long-held feminist concepts of equality and illuminates how challenging it can be to forge both a rewarding career and a fulfilling personal life in an era that seems to demand superhuman achievement from everyone may not, in reality, be possible. And, perhaps, that it may be okay.

Beth Hylton (Gwen Harper) and Maggie Erwin (Avery Willard) in Round House Theatre’s current production of Rapture, Blister, Burn. Photo by Danisha Crosby.
Beth Hylton (Gwen Harper) and Maggie Erwin (Avery Willard) in Round House Theatre’s current production of ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn.’ Photo by Danisha Crosby.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Rapture, Blister, Burn plays through February 22, 2015 at Round House Theatre – 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 644-1100, or purchase them online.

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