San Pedro’s Little Fish Theatre scores a major programming coup in offering Angelinos their first 99-seat look at Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright’s tangy examination of how much—and how little—women’s lives have changed from the pre-Betty Friedan 1950s to the post-post-Feminist today.
Gionfriddo’s three generations of women are 70something Alice (Mary-Margaret Lewis), her 42-year-old daughter Catherine (Suzanne Dean), Cathy’s onetime college best friend Gwen (Christina Morrell), and 21-year-old Avery (Kimmy Shields), the latest babysitter hired by Gwen’s college dean husband Don (Patrick Rafferty) from amongst the misfit students it is his job to counsel.
If Alice’s recent heart attack has served as her daughter’s pretext to abandon New York City life for New England and Mom, Cathy has other, less altruistic motives for the change of scene.
Despite considerable career success, the still-single feminist writer has begun to do some midlife soul searching (including more than a bit of pining for the man she let slip away).
That’s right. Just when their grad school romance was turning serious, Cathy opted for a year in London, thereby breaking Don’s heart and sending him straight into Gwen’s eagerly waiting arms.
Now, fourteen years later, Don’s teaching job will give Cathy the opportunity to spend time with her recuperating mom while trying on the role of college prof.
Perhaps most importantly, it may allow her to rekindle romantic flames with the still sexy but now weed-and-porn-addicted Don, consequences be damned.
Since it’s too late for a regular summer assignment, Dean Don offers Cathy a seminar on Women, Politics, & Porn, one she can teach from her mother’s home, conveniently located next door to Don and Gwen’s, and before long it’s Cathy, Gwen, Avery, and Alice comparing multi-generational views on everyone and everything from Betty Friedan to Phyllis Schlafly to horror flicks to six decades of evolving male-female roles, Gionfriddo’s snap-crackle-pop dialog lubricated by abundant martinis (and recovering alcoholic Gwen’s Shirley Temples.)
Not surprisingly, romantic/sexual sparks begin to fly between Cathy and Don, so hold on to your hats because it’s going to be a bumpy—and highly enjoyable—ride, one that combines the kind of lively debate you might hear on a particularly highly-charged episode of The View or Real Time With Bill Maher with romantic shenanigans that wouldn’t seem out of place on a daytime soap and the “what-if” appeal of a Swapping Lives flick.
Under Mark Piatelli’s sharp direction, an all-around terrific cast bring Gionfriddo’s characters to exhilarating life.
Dean (commanding as always as the man-hungry but vulnerable Cathy), Morrell (compelling and heartbreaking as Gwen), and Rafferty (so good you can’t help liking Don despite his slacker ways) are matched by stage-and-screen vet Lewis’s wise, dry-humored Alice and newcomer Shields’ tough-but-tender Avery.
Reconfigured seating allows the entire Little Fish audience an unobstructed view of Phil Buono’s multi-locale set, one that allows swift changes from inside Alice’s home to Don and Gwen’s back yard and back.
Costume designer Marlee Delia gives each cast member several character-appropriate outfits to sport, Stacey Abrams’ lighting design features some nice dramatic touches, and properties designer Allison Mamann provides everything from martini glasses to a child’s birthday cake to backpacks to books.
Aiding in Gionfriddo’s trip down sixty years of memory lane are Jessica Westerfield’s nostalgic sound design (a mix of feminist/anti-feminist sound bites and era-appropriate song hits) and Nicolas Dean-Levy’s low-tech projection design (precisely what you might get in one of Catherine’s college lectures).
Rapture, Blister, Burn is produced by Tara Donovan. Katilin Chang is associate producer. Rodney Rincon is stage manager.
Entertaining and intellectually stimulating in equal measure, Rapture, Blister, Burn proves one of the best Little Fish productions I’ve seen in years.
Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. San Pedro.
August 5, 2016
Photos: Mickey Elliot