I had the honor of speaking with Michele Loor Nicolay who is playing Alice Croll, in Rapture, Blister, Burn at Allens Lane Theater.
Henrik: If you could rapture, blister, and burn about this much talked about play, how would you describe its characters and what drives them—or what holds them back?
Michele Loor Nicolay (Alice Croll): This play beautifully portrays the difficult choices we make—men and women both—and the consequences of those choices. Catherine has a hugely successful academic career but feels the lack of a family. Gwen has a family but wonders what might have been if she has finished her graduate program. Each envies the other. Then there is Don, a brilliant academic who has not lived up to his potential. Has he made the right choice in only living up to the “grade C achievable standard” Gwen holds him to?
Could you give an example that expresses the underlying philosophy of this play?
Young Avery says at the beginning of the play, “You either have a career and end up lonely and sad, or you have a family and end up lonely and sad.” Is he correct? Can you have both?
Why should theatregoers come to see Rapture, Blister, Burn?
The play explores important issues from all sides, especially the second wave of feminism. It gives a voice to both Betty Friedan and, surprisingly, to Phyllis Schlafly. The play is sometimes funny, but always poignant. For example, what would happen if you could actually trade your life for that of another person? Or, the dilemma of a childless, single professional about to lose her mother. Or, the underachiever faced with the success of his former partner.
How are audiences reacting to the show?
Every audience member with whom I have spoken has shared with me something in this play that has hit home—often, many things. Audience members also pointed out the excellent direction by Maurizio Giammarco and the “top rate acting” of the cast.
What personal experiences did you bring with you that helped you prepare for your role?
We all grow with experience. At this point, I have had many years of acting and living. Both have served me well in this role. My life as a mother of a grown child is something that helped me frequently in finding and connecting with my role as Alice Croll, the mother. I don’t have a daughter, but my relationship with my son, as well as the talent and onstage vulnerability of Maia Baird, who plays my daughter Catherine Croll, helped enormously with this role.
How do you relate to your character?
I am old enough to remember the second wave of feminism that is discussed at length in our play. Like Alice, “I wasn’t really aware.” Unlike Alice, I married very young. I, too, was “wrapped up in my baby” when women were making great strides toward equality. I look back now and wish I had been more aware.
At times in the play, the usually upbeat Alice expresses regrets about her marriage and her choices. The one thing she definitely does not regret is Cathy, the child that came out of that imperfect marriage. I relate strongly to that when thinking of my son and my early marriage.
How do you feel about your role in this play?
I felt a wistfulness that Alice shows most strongly in a beautiful, spotlight moment at the end of the play.
What is the best advice Director Maurizio Giammarco has given you that helped you to shape your performance?
He tirelessly pushes us to grow with every performance. His attention to detail extends from the beautiful set he has created to the smallest gesture an actor may make. He has encouraged the cast to become a family, which helps in both our backstage life and, of course, in acting this ensemble piece.
You said that you joined this production late. When did you join the cast?
Yes, but I was taken in and made to feel a part of it very quickly. There is a warm, cohesive feel in this atmosphere, which is necessary for this piece to work. I am impressed with the quality of work from this cast and crew. They are strong and even the youngest members have had extensive training and quite a bit of onstage experience.
You mentioned the crew.
True. Our crew is one of the best I’ve worked with. Our stage manager, Emily Jolley, and our assistant stage manager, Robert Rueland, are extremely professional. They make things flow smoothly in a play with many props, costume changes, entrances and exits. They are very communicative between shows and rehearsals. I find that an enormous help.
Technical Director, Kim Pelle, has a sensitivity and capability that works so well with Maurizio’s vision. He has trained a crack team that has done a wonderful job. Not a sound or lighting cue is missed. It sets the actors at ease knowing they don’t have to worry about these things.
Many thanks, Michele.
Running Time: 2 ½ hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Rapture, Blister, Burn plays through October 9, 2016 at Allens Lane Theater – 601 West Allens Lane, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 248-0546, buy them at the door, or online.
Playwright Gina Gionfriddo is an American playwright and television writer. She has written for the television series Law & Order. She graduated from Barnard College and completed Brown University’s MFA playwriting program where she studied with playwright Paula Vogel. She has taught playwriting at Brown University, Providence College, and Rhode Island College. She was a writer for the television series Law & Order. René Balcer, the head writer and executive producer of Law & Order, said: “She really has an ear for the dialogue of everyday Americans and the quirkiness of everyday Americans.”
Rapture, Blister, Burn premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in June 2012. The play was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Here is a DCMetroTheaterArts review of Round House Theatre’s production.
Director Maurizio Giammarco, Ph.D., has taught English at Temple University and drama, acting, rehearsal and production, and writing at Rosemont College, where he also served as the theater program director and produced the one-act play festival. For more information, click here.
Actor Michele Loor Nicolay: Earned a degree in Voice Performance/Opera at Temple and an MBA from Villanova. She performed at many theaters, including Playcrafters of Skippack, PA; Old Academy Players, Philadelphia, PA; Plays & Players Philadelphia, PA; Society Hill Playhouse, Philadelphia, PA; Footlighters Theater, Berwyn, PA; King of Prussia Players, King of Prussia, PA; Players Club of Swarthmore, Swarthmore, PA; Theater Center Philadelphia; and Allens Lane Art Center, Philadelphia, PA.
Cast list: Maia Baird (Catherine Croll); Jim Broyles (Don Harper); Kellie Cooper (Gwen Harper); Michele Loor Nicolay (Alice Croll); and Claire Minter (Avery Williard).