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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Rapture, Blister, Burn

Rapture, Blister, Burn

Or: Coven Discourse

There is a play called Copenhagen by Frayn which looks at human relations (particularly the fraying friendship of Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr in the winter of 1941) through the baffling and at times illuminating world of particle physics. It is, for want of a better word, good.

Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn is built along the same structure only with the lens changed from the subatomic level to that of the ineffable yet undeniable: personal sovereignty, personal potential, and the political power of choice, of choosing this story to live and not that one. It ought to really zing, enlightening and enlivening its audience but the stitching is too loose between talk and action. It’s an incredibly smart play, a funny play, and, towards the end a very sweet play, but it hasn’t quite snapped up the mantel of ‘good’.

Years ago, in graduate school, Catherine (Tracy Sunderland) was on track to becoming a hot shot academic feminist theorist, supported by her beaux/sparing partner Don (Justin Ness) and best friend Gwen (Jodeen Revere). Gwen left the academic life to become a stay at home mother but she took Don with her. Now, the toast of New Yorks intellectual circles but wondering if all her solitude and hard work was worth a life alone, Catherine returns home to take care of her mother Alice (Carole Whiteleather). She meets up with Gwen and Don, each loaded with misery, vices, and a longing for what might have been. Gwen enrolls in her friends summer school class along side amoral and acerbic teen Avery (Tiara Thompson) partially to learn more about pornography and its place in american culture but mostly to test a life-switching experiment with her old friend. What she doesn’t realize is the growing attraction between Don and Catherine that might steamroll her old life flat, before she decides to get rid of it.

While I applaud Gionfriddo’s natural manner of introducing the multi sided views of second wave feminist theory in a appetizing and digestible manner, as well as her poignant descriptions of our vanished narratives, the better world we project on our own sorry mistakes and foolish choices, I wish she had expended a bit more time on her plot arcs. The ups and downs, epiphanies and revelations all either happen off stage or are so notified that we see them coming and loose our anticipation for them. The lines she writes for her characters deserve better framing than a “discussion section”. Whiteleather does particularly well with Alice’s pithy sayings: describing the dating perils of “easy” sexual congress she sums up with, “A man’s not going to buy a cow when he can get the milk for free”. Sundrland and Ness both delight, each feeding off the others witticisms and unease: she arch but shot through with veins of disquiet, he despairing but shot through with veins of wit.

Perhaps I am prejudiced towards the play. When I see a coven of women up on stage: the elder who’s been through the rough times before, the youngster so pushed up with her own theories and righteousness and two women who embody the two choices facing the modern women (plummet from the tree or whither of the vine), I expect them to talk about themselves more. Instead much of the conversation (excepting the literary dissection and salvo’s of insults) is focus around men: how to keep them, control them, mould them. I just have a hard time believing that such a collection of bright minds wouldn’t have other issues to talk about. By all means talk about the relations of the sexes in the national zeitgeist or hammer out your personal problems but don’t let one get tied up in the other.

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