Meetup #23: Rapture, Blister, Burn


Aurora Theatre‘s insanely fantastic, much-acclaimed Rapture, Blister, Burn was the reason for our 23rd Meetup, and did it live up to our expectations! 2013’s Pulitzer Prize finalist is every bit the scorcher we’d expected it to be – and then some!

Bay Area News Group’s Karen D’Souza is all praise for playwright Gina Gionfriddo and director Desdemona Chiang: “As she did in the rollicking romp “Becky Shaw,” Gina Gionfriddo once again explores the volatility of female power in this Pulitzer-nominated comedy. A nakedly funny homage to Wendy Wasserstein’s iconic “The Heidi Chronicles,” this is a sharply observed portrait of middle aged ennui that rambunctiously refutes the notion of women “leaning in” without falling apart. In its regional debut at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company, director Desdemona Chiang astutely hits all the punch lines without sacrificing the depth and nuance of the characters.”

The performances have also received ecstatic reviews. Jennifer Wong of The Daily Californian calls the cast “magnificent” and that it “brings to life this battleground of feminist ideas in Gionfriddo’s script but also transcends it, bringing the audience a beautifully nuanced case study of the human spirit searching for purpose and fulfillment.”

Robert Hurwitt of SFGate has this to say of the three female leads: Marilee Talkingtons “frazzled, forceful performance embodies a restless intelligence and sexuality wrestling with an existential crisis of self-doubt”, Rebecca Schweitzer‘s performance “a model of hyper-faux-enthusiasm”, Lillian Bogovich’s and Nicole Javier’s Avery “is the fresh, not to mention caustic, breeze of youth, challenging – and judging – her elders as she copes with some bracing mating and sex-role problems of her own.”

Marilee was right when she said this wasn’t “an absurdist comedy, but a  super frickin’ smart, incredibly provocative, fast moving, brain tickling and heart tugging” play.

If you saw the play with us tonight, or plan to soon, leave us a note and share your shout-outs to the women involved in this production: Lillian Bogovich – Alice; Nicole Javier – Avery; Rebecca Schweitzer* – Gwen; Marilee Talkington* – Catherine; Gina Gionfriddo – Playwright; Desdemona Chiang – Director; Heather Basarab – Lighting Designer; Kate Boyd – Set Designer; Megan McClintock* – Stage Manager; Ashley Rogers – Costume Designer; Kirsten Royston– Properties; Alicia Coombes– Wardrobe; Anya Kazimierski – Scenic Artist.

PS: You can read more reviews here.

18 responses to “Meetup #23: Rapture, Blister, Burn

  1. Aurora Theatre Company would like to extend a $5 ticket discount to anyone who wants to see one of the remaining performances (closes Oct 5th). Discount code is Wfw5off.

  2. After a night’s sleep, I’m still struck by the cynicism about male-female relationships that I find in this play. My own relationship doesn’t have the kind of manipulation and sacrifice that Gionfriddo’s characters discuss. This aspect of the play leaves me puzzled – it’s the part I think I’ll continue to chew on.
    It was a delight to see Marilee Talkington play so smart and articulate and to see her character Catherine’s love of teaching in the two classroom scenes. The characters’ discussion of Friedan and Schlafy as a way to make points about their own lives and experiences is smartly executed by Gina Gionfriddo – it’s followable.
    Every time I’m at Aurora, I always think about how difficult staging is in a thrust configuration – Desdemona Chiang has handled this quite admirably.
    I was also generally pleased by the transitions between scenes – synthesis of design elements, staging, timing and a way to keep the story moving forward.

  3. I found the performances uniformly excellent. The direction – especially the pacing – is terrific. I think the idea of how a partner influences one’s choices was interesting – how s/he can lift you or bring you down. The writing is smart, sometimes, I think, “too” smart – like George Bernard Shaw. Definitely a comedy of manners. Overall, highly enjoyable.


    I couldn’t summon the amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept the husband swap. The husband is so shlubby I couldn’t buy that either of these women would want to be with him. The premise that Marilee’s character is so desperate for a man – yeah, I just don’t know about that.

    • thanks Patricia – I really like how you’ve articulated this idea of a partner influencing one’s choices – it’s much less cynical than how I saw the conversation about relationship and the necessity of manipulation and sacrifice.

      • It’s funny, Valerie– I remember a conversation I had with my partner. I was explaining how we can’t expect others to change for us and we’ll be bitterly disappointed if we set about to change others. With his dry wit he responded, “I agree entirely. And here I sit drinking coffee, and there you sit, not watching TV.” Before we met he never drank coffee and I watched TV, and without actually trying, our choices had shifted (at least mine was for the better). 😉

  4. Really well directed and acted! I generally enjoyed the play, but the seminar scenes felt contrived & dragged the action down. Cut to the chase! I wanted to yell. After all the back-and-forth about the history of the women’s movement and family vs. career, I was happy when the characters ACTED on their desires. Who has the better life–the homemaker or the “career girl”? (Yes, the two women in question seem to see the choice in these dated and flawed but alas still pertinent either-or terms.) When they cut to the chase and actually attempt to switch places (with a haavy dose of self-deception on both sides) –I got more engaged in their story. Each thinks they want the other’s life… be careful what you wish for. It was an okay play, at times formulaic and at times thought-provoking. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to see this cast and director in action. And it adds so much to the experience to see it with the Works by Women peeps!

    • Thanks Nancy! I really enjoyed the seminar scenes. To me, seeing these ideas debated onstage, and how they applied to the individual lives and choices felt fresh and exciting.

      • I saw the show Saturday, and was equally impressed by the acting and directing. I was disappointed, however, that the two women occupied the “opposite” ends of the “choice” spectrum, with one basically All Career and one All Family. I don’t think that many women actually make these all-or-nothing choices anymore, or rather that the women who genuinely want and then try to have both have the REAL hard time figuring things out. (Some women don’t want both, and more power to them! Sometimes I really wish my inclinations fell that way.)
        I guess it would have felt more “of the moment” to me if Catherine were trying to adopt a baby on her own and struggling, or Gwen was trying to work part-time now that her youngest is 3 and finding all kinds of roadblocks — instead it felt like there was just all this blame placed on how compromising is hard and men have an easier time of it. Both those things are true, but I just don’t think I know any women who aren’t struggling with figuring it out, rather than regretting their (rather singular) choices.
        I had an easier time believing the husband-swapping than I did that Catherine really had no regrets about marriage/family until her mother’s life was threatened.
        (Still definitely thinking about this play and would love to hear more thoughts from others…)

      • thanks Isabelle – these are great points. Some of the informal post show conversation was about the fact that the story didn’t get ‘messy’ enough for some of us. Your observation about being All Career vs. All Family seems to cover similar territory.

  5. I love this discussion! And like so many others, I really admired the acting and directing in this production. As a college teacher, I get the opportunity to have a lot of conversations with young women about their relationship to feminism. I have been consistently alarmed over the past 5 years about how many young women still do see their choices in all-or-nothing black and white terms – I can EITHER have a family OR a career, but not both. A lot of them see this viewpoint as pragmatic. So I guess the production’s framing of the argument in these terms resonated for me. While I do agree that many women are leading lives that are more complex than the All Career vs. All Family narrative, the narrative has stubbornly persisted, and I believe it is affected young women’s life choices.

  6. Although I didn’t see Rapture, Blister, Burn at the Aurora, I’m enjoying reading the comments here. It seems that many of you reacted to the play as I did when I saw it in Seattle a year or so ago. I enjoyed the Shavian wit and the opportunities it provided to female actors to burn up the stage. I also appreciated the lessons in feminist history. Even if the seminar scenes were contrived, they were entertaining and informative. But, like Isabelle and others, I’m bored and frustrated with the reductive treatment of the women’s choices and the overly simplistic opposition of capital-C Career and capital-F Family. I’m sick to death of the question (as worded in the description of the play on the Aurora’s website): “Can any woman really have it all?”

  7. Pingback: 9/19: This Week in Feminist Theater | Works by Women San Francisco·

  8. I really enjoyed the play, loved seeing some fabulous strong women in feature roles. I liked the overview of feminist history, including the timeline in the program (admittedly abridged). I really appreciated the multi-generational perspectives. There’s a lot in the script, and I imagine different story threads will resonate with different audience members. And it was a pleasure to watch the show with fellow feminists (sister feminists?) in the house!

  9. Here’s a sudden thought – are there plays/stories where men have to make a career or family choice?

  10. Pingback: 10/3: This Week in Feminist Theater | Works by Women San Francisco·

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