— Lori Triolo, Courtney Shields, Moya O'Connell. Photo credit: ShimonKarmel.
RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN
What makes a fulfilling life? When is less more? Why would a woman want a man who jerks off to porn instead of having sex with her? These are some of the compelling questions explored in Rapture, Blister, Burn, the hottest show in town. Don’t miss it.
One of the dozens of small, independent companies that have made Vancouver’s theatre scene so exciting, Mitch and Murray Productions do only a couple of shows a year but they’ve really made them count. Here they come back to playwright Gina Gionfriddo, whose Becky Shaw was one of the best plays of 2013 in Mitch and Murray’s hands. Gionfriddo writes the kind of slightly melodramatic American domestic realism with which we’re all familiar, but her scripts are super-smart, witty and engaging. And Aaron Craven’s casting and staging of Rapture, Blister, Burn are simply superb.
Gwen (Lori Triolo) and Don (Robert Moloney) are a 40-ish couple with two kids. He’s a dean at what he calls “a 4th-rate liberal arts college” in New England; she’s a housewife. Back in their college days Gwen’s roommate Catherine (Moya O’Connell) was Don’s girlfriend, and they were serious. But Gwen stole him away. Catherine went on to become an academic star, publishing books on feminism, horror films and porn. She has remained unmarried, and the heart attack of her mother, Alice (Anna Hagan), on whom Catherine relies for emotional support, has thrown her life into crisis.
When Catherine contacts Gwen again after these many years she finds that Gwen, too, is unhappy, her marriage gone sour as Don does little but drink beer, smoke pot and watch porn. Their reunion shakes up all three of their lives. Eventually, Gwen and Catherine try trading places.
The central part of the play is taken up in a highly artificial scenario that provides the play’s thematic crux in a series of terrific scenes. Catherine offers a seminar in her mother’s living room, her only students Gwen and Avery (Courtney Shields), an outspoken 21-year-old who was Don and Gwen’s babysitter. What results is an intelligent, nuanced and often very funny discussion of feminisms across three generations and multiple positions, and an examination of how various ideologies succeed or fail in actually making women’s lives happy and fulfilled. This may sound pedantic but it’s intellectually fascinating and theatrically potent.
The acting is exceptional across the board. Triolo keeps desperate Gwen right on the edge of hysteria, while the elegant O’Connell shows us Catherine’s intelligence wrestling with her intense emotional hunger. Moloney manages to find Don’s sweet spot—slacker and porn addict yet college dean, pathetically unambitious yet a loving father, still attractive enough to be fought over by two women. Hagan avoids all the clichés of older women on stage: she provides Alice’s calm, reasonable conservative perspective without losing any of the fullness of her personhood. And Shields is an absolute revelation. Her Avery is funny, energetic and paradoxically the most sensible character of all, the source of much youthful wisdom. If Shields doesn’t get at least a Jessie nomination for this performance, I’ll turn in my reviewer’s badge.