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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Theatre review: Rapture, Blister, Burn is an intellectual workout

Rapture, Blister, Burn is a romcom for the Mensa set.

Even while that characterization might seem a bit of a slight for this heady exploration of feminism and the pursuit of happiness, it has many of the hallmarks of the genre. Minus the happily ever after.

Admittedly, while playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s play feels more like a university lecture on the history of feminism than it does a traditional romcom, that largely comes from her characters innate abilities to dissect and examine the minutiae of a subject, all with a surprising depth of knowledge that goes well beyond the average dinner table conversation. Even her characters that live outside academic life seem to have an almost uncanny and immediate grasp of the sometimes complex subject, able to formulate a well-reasoned opinion or argument at the drop of a hat.

Despite their smarts though, Gionfriddo’s characters all turn out to be surprisingly dumb when it comes to the whole relationship thing, reinforcing the idea that one’s position on the happiness scale does not necessarily match your position on the IQ scale. One supposes on a small level that is part of Gionfriddo’s point, but while you’ll definitely learn a few things about the history of feminism – including its correlation to pornography, slasher movies and even 9/11 – it can be sometimes tough to keep up with her thesis.

Life is complicated for the quintet of characters. Middle-aged Don is an academic without drive and a proclivity for online porn, while his wife Gwen dropped out of university to become a mother and hates both herself and her husband for it.  Then there is the millennial Courtney who is more interested in reality television and outsourcing her life than reality itself, and the older Alice, who has just had a heart attack, seems to be solely interested in the next round of five o’clock martinis (alcohol is a big part of this world). Then there is Catherine, whose success as a feminist expert is giving way to her biological clock.

Helping us wade through this sometimes dense discourse is a terrific ensemble. Robert Moloney plays the lone male character with a suitably rumpled resignation, and is a perfect counterpoint to his defeated, yet resilient wife played by Lori Triolo. Anna Hagan gives the older generation a voice of authority that seems to reinforce that adage about old dogs, and as Catherine, Moya O’Connell gives a wonderful performance that is at times as vulnerable as she is invincible. As the millennial Avery, Courtney Shields not only gets some of the best lines of the evening, but is near perfect in presenting her character’s combination of brashness and unfiltered commentary.

Even as Giofriddo’s characters quote feminists like Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schafly, and Nancy Friday, there remains a delicious irony that the real common thread between these characters is that most desire something that someone else in the group already has. Of course, the attainment of those things are predictably not the panacea they believe them to be, and long-held beliefs are turned on their heads. There is an ultimate realization that perhaps the grass isn’t greener and, to borrow from one of life’s forgotten feminists, perhaps it  is only greener over the septic tank.

Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo. Directed by Aaron Craven. A Mitch and Murray Productions presentation. On stage at Studio 16 (1555 West 7th Ave, Vancouver) until November 28. Visit for tickets and information.

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