Rapture, Blister, Burn is a play that brims with charming performances and clever witticisms within its dialogue. Too bad everything else beyond that is just uninteresting dead weight.
The play follows a middle-aged woman named Catherine, a successful and renowned scholar who returns to her hometown to take care of her mother. While there, she also reconnects with two of her close former classmates from her younger days, Gwen and Don. The two have married each other and have two children, but also suffer from financial problems and a dysfunctional marriage. By contrast, Catherine has thrived career wise, but laments leading a lonely existence – made worse by the fact that Don is her former lover.
A young, rebellious college girl named Avery is also in the mix. She contributes her ambitious perspective onto the other three, taking pride in her generation’s social-freedoms and frequently berating the past. Catherine’s mother, Alice, also injects her views that loom on an end of the spectrum more or less opposite to all three. As every individual suffers and vents their existential crises and nostalgia, it all culminates into intense — albeit amusing — arguments, fallouts and ultimately huge self-realizations.
There are a few things to admire about the production. The performance of the entire cast is solid and undoubtedly engaging from the first to last scene.
Actress Courtney Shields is particularly a show-stealer. Her role as Avery is impressively charismatic, inciting some well-earned chuckles. The play’s well-written banter between all the characters is also noteworthy. It makes the chemistry and emotional ties between them feel legitimate and is made better by the aforementioned acting. In other words, it has plenty of lighthearted personality to keep you engaged. This is also important because these are the play’s only saving grace.
Despite those few shining rays of brilliance, everything else about the play felt like a drag of pretentiousness. A majority of it is Catherine lecturing Gwen and Avery on various feminist theories and philosophies. These do incite some amusing and tense reactions between them, but overall, they felt like padding with unneeded exposition to make the play sound smarter than it actually is. Even worse is that it appears to be a hamfisted way of shoving the play’s themes down your throat rather than letting the characters’ actions speak for themselves.
This could be a little more forgivable if the play was not incredibly predictable. Not only does it unfold like a Disney Channel movie for grown-ups, but it makes all that emphasis on the philosophical theory less important than it is set up to be.
Speaking of the Disney Channel, no matter how good the acting or banter, the characters are overly-exaggerated caricatures you’d find there. Even with nice things to say about Shields’ performance, Avery is characterized with every bad millennial stereotype imaginable. This “out-of-touch-ness” is also made evident by the fact that her costume design seems straight out of a 1999 college rom-com.
Meanwhile, everyone else feels just as incredibly contrived. This is especially evident during a key decision all of the characters make mid-way through the play — it was equivalent to something straight out of a farcical-comedy. The problem is that, despite some humorous garnishing, Rapture clearly expects you to relate to it and be taken seriously. This is a shame because, in regards to middle-aged crises, the topics it touches upon — like loneliness and self-purpose — are full of potential. Unfortunately, they are oversimplified both in presentation and resolution while also being sugarcoated in faux-complexity.
In short, Rapture, Blister, Burn tries very hard to elicit any meaningful thoughts or feelings within the audience. Unfortunately, there was only one thing on my mind by the time it ended: “Hey, I kinda liked that one actor. She was kinda funny.”