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The oddly timely ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’

By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review

On April 27, San Diego Repertory Theatre opened Gina Gionfriddo’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, “Rapture, Blister, Burn.” Directed by Rep Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse, the attractive production plays in the round through May 15 in the Lyceum Space.

Disguised as a comedy, it has darker undertones, concerns four women of different ages and is truly a history of the Women’s Movement since the advent of the birth-control pill, Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique,” and the activism of Phyllis Schlafly, who was an anti-Equal Rights Amendment activist.

Jennifer Paredes (as Avery), Susan Denaker (Alice) and Paige Lindsey White (Catherine) all wonder what they’ve missed out on. (Photo by Daren Scott)

Jennifer Paredes (as Avery), Susan Denaker (Alice) and Paige Lindsey White
(Catherine) all wonder what they’ve missed out on. (Photo by Daren Scott)

The contemporary play takes place in a New England college town today.

Just as men (there’s one specimen in the play) have been doing for millennia, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” asks the question, “What do women want?”

The play concerns what these four women got and what they think they missed. Was it success, or was it marriage and motherhood? Is one able to have both? All are hot topics, even today, as middle-aged and older women survey the effects and possibly the wreckage of the choices they made; and contemporary young women still haven’t achieved equality and still want to have it all.

Shawn Law (as Don) and Paige Lindsey White (Catherine) reminisce. (Photo by Daren Scott)

Shawn Law (as Don) and Paige Lindsey White (Catherine) reminisce.
(Photo by Daren Scott)

Apparently a recovering alcoholic, Gwen Harper (Sandy Campbell) got Don Harper (Shawn Law) and is now the mother of two widely spaced children, both boys. The eldest is an incipient homosexual and seems headed for a career in showbiz, and the younger, still unformed, is daddy’s boy.

When the play opens in a marvelously appointed play- or living-room (scenic designer Robin Sanford Roberts), Don is hastily tidying up, because they are expecting Catherine Croll (Paige Lindsey White), a brilliant and famous author and lecturer on feminist history. When all three were in grad school, she went abroad to study, Don declined to accompany her and Gwen scooped him up.

Caroline has come home because her mother, Alice (Susan Denaker) has suffered a heart attack and Caroline fatalistically believes she will die within a year, as her sisters did. Aside from her penchant for martinis, apparently shared by Caroline, Alice seems just fine and is the droll wit and wisdom of the play.

Don, too, has a great affinity for booze, and pot as well. He is indolent and does the bare minimum to provide for his family, including Gwen, who does not work outside the home and has just fired their kooky babysitter, Avery (Jennifer Paredes), a 21-year old student filmmaker/activist with a black eye, an outlandish wardrobe (costume design by Jennifer Brawn Giddings) and miles of attitude.

This is the raw material for a wild ride as everyone becomes dissatisfied with what he/she got and proceeds with hilarious results to fix things. The fact that Gwen manages to stay sober during the chaos is a miracle. Playwright Gionfriddo has a bit of trouble bringing the mess to a satisfying conclusion and ends all with a jolly toast to Schafly.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 3.05.55 PMWoodhouse, who is an expert at solving puzzles and making a group of disparate actors into an ensemble, is to be praised. As the set’s four entrances proclaim, “Home. Sweet. Home.”

The lighting designer is Lonnie Alcaraz, and Kevin Anthenill creates the sound and some spiffy original music.

— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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