Rapture, Blister, Burn is an ambitious play that explores themes of female agency, sexual freedom and the toxicity of human nature. With all of its themes and topics, it proves a challenging play to pull off. However, the cast, crew and director on the Hill were up to the challenge on Saturday night.
Rapture, Blister, Burn follows three middle-aged characters who went to graduate school together. Catherine (Laura Stone ’23) is everyone’s favorite professor and travels the world delivering lectures and writing books that intellectuals obsess over. One day, she calls her former roommate, Gwen Harper (Maia Wolf-Livingston ’23), who is now married to Catherine’s ex-boyfriend, Don Harper. Over a drunk call, Catherine and Gwen consider but dismiss the possibility of them switching lives. Catherine’s mother has a heart attack and Catherine is not comfortable with the thought of living the rest of her life by herself, so she returns to her home.
Catherine wants to be with Don, who is now an unambitious disciplinary dean who is addicted to pot and porn. Catherine is unashamed about her desire for Don despite her friendship with Gwen. The tension between all three of them was palpable from the start, transitioning from Gwen and Don’s quibbling to Don and Catherine putting up a futile attempt to hide their desire for each other. The actors displayed fresh emotion, Wolf-Livingston and Stern making it clear that their characters had been together for years. The quippy language and thick academic references made the performance that much more impressive. The speedy pace of the dialogue made the play feel shorter than it actually was, especially because of how much was being emotionally divulged in each scene. Stone was amazing in her role, displaying both the overconfidence of a learned professor alongside the tenderness and vulnerability of a woman who wants to be loved and cared for.
Avery Willard (Julia Friedman ’23), the sassy and stubborn babysitter for the Harpers, joined Gwen in a summer course taught by Catherine. In the class, the three of them, along with Catherine’s mother (Iris Santalucia ’26) discuss the relevance of politics, media and social norms in the feminist movement. The most emotionally moving part of the play was in the women’s discussion of how the movement had impacted their lives and the real implications of being a woman in the modern world. Their disagreements on Phyllis Schlafley’s work brought feminism from an abstract movement into an actual practice. Livingston and Friedman shined in these scenes, with Gwen forcing her domestic sensibilities on everyone around her while Avery framed everyone else’s views as archaic and closed minded. Avery was a nice contrast to Gwen and Catherine, who both spoke each other’s language. The dialogue flowed pretty smoothly from impersonal academic discussion to touching revelations from each of the characters.
Catherine, Gwen and Don’s selfishness was presented vividly to everyone with comedic humor and dramatic irony. The trio’s desires agreed with each other at times and clashed with devastating results at others. Despite all of the conversations happening in either Gwen’s or Catherine’s home, the play felt dynamic because of the cycle of the characters’ opinions and choices.
The theatrical production was neat and effective. To switch between the different homes in the play, the entire living room set was moved by dragging the rugs underneath the tables. These set changes were aided by ironic but fitting songs, ranging from Aretha Franklin’s “Daydreaming” to “Reception At the Palace” from the soundtrack for the 1950 film “Cinderella.” The lighting was simple but effective in setting the mood of the play. The costumes gave depth to the characters, and each of them had their own distinctive style. Avery’s colorful and contemporary clothes, for example, were in direct contrast to the older characters around her. Gwen was the consummate domestic mom, her three-quarter pants taking the audience back to the early 2000s. Rapture, Blister, Burn was an intense and well-done play, the actors’ performances shining against their domestic background.