Houston Premiere of Comedy Rapture, Blister, Burn at 4th Wall Theatre Co. Explores Roads Not Taken

Contemplating a road not taken. Actually, this is not a show for children.
Contemplating a road not taken. Actually, this is not a show for children. Photo by Gabriella Nissen
A stay-at-home mom and a dedicated career woman stare at each other's lives and play the what-if game. OK, we've seen or read that story told before. But in Rapture, Blister, Burn the debate over women's roles in society is explained by three generations and in clever language that even includes a defense of Phyllis Schlafly.

A finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, Rapture, Blister, Burn by playwright Gina Gionfriddo examines modern feminism through the lens of women of different ages. Catherine the celebrated academic, author and superstar has returned home to take care of her mother who has had a heart attack; Gwen the homemaker and her former roommate has remained in town after marrying Catherine's former boyfriend. At play is more than just lives not lived, it also involves Gwen's husband Don, although it's not exactly clear how much of a catch college professor Don Harper is.

In the upcoming 4th Wall Theatre Co. production directed by co-artistic director Kim Tobin-Lehl, Elaine Robinson plays the stay-at-home Gwen. It's a role she identifies with since she stays home with her children, she says.

Describing her character, she says: "I think I'm very on task. I am currently a little disillusioned about where I am in my 40s. And I think that the relationship with my husband is incredibly trying at this time. It has been for a long time. I'm somebody who feels stuck and is looking for a way out, a breakthrough, a change, something to move my life forward and give it purpose, aside from children."

She has a 14-year-old and a 3-year-old and the 3-year-old likes the dad better," Tobin-Lehl says.

Part of the real tension in the Gwen and Don marriage, Tobin-Lehl says, is that she expects her husband to be more ambitious, to rise through the ranks but he apparently has no motivation to do so. "When you're a stay at home mom who doesn't have a lot of options to go out on your own and change your own life and make yourself something else because you don't have the wherewithal to maintain the lifestyle you need to maintain to take care of your kids, what do you do? And she's trapped."

This comes out in the summer seminar class that Catherine teaches, attended only by Gwen and the Harpers' young babysitter with occasional drop-ins from Catherine's mother, Alice, at whose house they're holding the class.

Part of the play correlates horror movies to different parts of the feminist movements of the '60s forward. "After the '60s they were afraid the Russians were going to drop the bomb so they did Invasion of the Body Snatchers," Tobin-Lehl says. "The big women's rights movement happened in the '60s and you had the rise of the slasher fillms." The cultural anxiety that birthed the slasher films came at a time that women were stepping out of their traditional roles and some people were afraid they would be taking over, Tobin-Lehl says.

The basic message of this comedy, and yes it is a comedy, is that all these characters are trying to figure out how to find love, Robinson says. "There are lots of different sides and opinions but these people love each other."

The play doesn't try to solve the debate about women's roles, Tobin-Lehl says. "It says 'cheers' to the people fighting the good fight, to find peace with what they have and love in whatever relationship they have."

Performances are scheduled for February 28 through March 23 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832-786-1849 or visit $17-$53 with a pay-what-you-can performance on Monday March 18.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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