The CU Players are back to grace our days with more student theatre! We sent a Staff Writer to check out the scene. “Rapture, Blister, Burn” runs from the 12th to the 14th, with tickets available at the TIC (or by waitlist).
Last night, Columbia University Players (CUP, for short) opened their latest three-day run in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre with a truly engaging and thoroughly entertaining performance of the play “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” the finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Written by Barnard alum Gina Gionfriddo, the play centers on the journeys of two women, Gwen and Catherine, who are both experiencing dissatisfaction with their lives. Catherine, played by Supriya Ganesh (CC ‘19), is a hotshot feminist academic who is now regretting her choice to not settle down, while Gwen, played by Jennifer Yu (CC ‘17), is a housewife and dropout grad-student who wants a second chance at pursuing a career. Gionfriddo’s purpose with this female-dominated cast was to explore the concept of happiness within the context of the many contrasting ideals in feminist theory, exploring figures like Phyllis Schlafly (notable for campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment) and Betty Friedan (the original second-wave feminist) among others.
The play opens with Catherine returning to her hometown to take care of her aging mother, Alice (played by Isabel Bailin (BC ‘17) in full, quirky form), following a recent heart attack. Catherine, upon returning home, finds herself socializing with the former love-of-her-life, Don (Ryan Nuzzo (CC ‘16)), who just so happens to be Gwen’s husband. While Catherine and Don were both in graduate school, Catherine left for a fellowship in London, leaving Don behind to fall for her former best friend, Gwen. After taking a position at the local college (at which Don is one of the deans), Catherine starts a summer school class on feminism and media, leading a class of only two students: Gwen and Avery, the headstrong former babysitter for Gwen and Don (played by Sophia Seidenberg (BC ‘19)).
It’s through the setup of the class that most of the narrative of the play takes place, where all three women, along with the regular participation of Alice, discuss works of feminist theory and slowly begin talking about how those theories apply to their own lives and choices. During the first class, Gwen brings up problems between her and Don, stemming from his “pot and porn” habits and lack of aspirational motivation. Gwen, a dropout of the same PhD program Catherine and Don finished, wants another shot in academia, while Catherine feels drawn to Don and the domestic life on which she missed out. Avery, age college-age girl, provides a foil for both Gwen and Catherine, looking up to neither of them at first and arguing at one point that “you either have a career and wind up lonely and sad, or you have a family and wind up lonely and sad.”
While the preview photos, publicity quips, and general plot direction for “Rapture, Blister, Burn” had me excited to attend, I did harbor some initial skepticism about the play after hearing that the title was pulled from the Courtney Love song “Use Once & Destroy.” That being said, I can say unequivocally that the performance assuaged the entirety of that skepticism, as I found myself immediately engaged with both the script and the performers. Brittany Searles (BC ‘17), for her full-length directorial debut, pulled together a solid and thought-provoking performance, staying true to the source material while still demanding phenomenal performances from all her actresses (and singular actor), upon which they delivered. Despite the bulk of the performance taking place in sedentary settings (Alice’s living room where Catherine held class or the porch of Don and Gwen’s home), the performance never fell flat or felt slow; the energy of the performers and the purpose behind the performance kept every member of the audience involved and in awe until the lights fell for the last time.
For those lucky enough to attend last night’s performance, Gina Gionfriddo herself was in attendance and stayed after the performance for a brief talk with the audience, answering questions about her process and thoughts on the performance. When asked about the title (note: not by me), Gionfriddo explained the origin from the Courtney Love song, going on the state that the title is kind of “an Icarus thing: how there’s the tendency of great movements to die out at their peak.” After the cast, director, and playwright fielded a few questions about specific scenes, the topic of DSpar’s recent book “Wonder Woman” came up, specifically how Barnard’s president argues that women can’t ‘have it all.’ The director commented on this, saying that this play is unique in its approach to the question of female happiness and satisfaction in that “[Rapture, Blister, Burn] addresses the question of ‘if we can’t have it all, what can we have?’”
Although there won’t be another talk with the playwright, I greatly encourage anyone who can attend to do so, or if you’re still lacking a ticket, to go and get on the waitlist. “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is a challenging, thought-provoking, and entertaining production that has true universal appeal, and after watching the two hour long production on applying feminist theory, you just may be inspired to pick up Friedan (or Schlafly) and see what those great women have to say.
Cast photo by Ellen Mischinski