By: Andrew Koch
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) in Over-the-Rhine put on Gina Gionfriddo’s “Rapture, Blister, Burn” in its first regional production.
The play, a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, explores the various roles of women in a post-feminism society.
While the five-member cast may have been small in size, it was certainly not lacking in talent. Corinne Mohlenhoff gave a strong and dynamic performance as Cathy, delicately balancing her character’s tightly-wound ambition with her growing need for a sense of belonging.
The plot follows Cathy, a fortysomething best-selling author and feminist scholar, as she questions her life choices upon returning home.
When she reunites with Gwen and Don, two of her friends from graduate school who are married with kids, Cathy wonders what opportunities for a family life she has missed by choosing a career-oriented path.
Tensions further develop as she reignites a romantic relationship with Don, her ex-boyfriend and Gwen’s husband. Charlie Clark’s portrayal of ne’er-do-well Don garnered many laughs from the audience and made an otherwise contemptible character likable.
Clark’s chemistry with Mohlenhoff also added to the play’s dramatic drive.
Jen Joplin, in her first production with ETC, also shines in her role as Gwen, stay-at-home mother of two.
Joplin successfully made the audience feel Gwen’s frustration with her deadbeat husband.
Hannah Sawicki and Patricia Linhart round out the cast, effectively portraying precocious college student Avery and Cathy’s snarky mother, Alice, respectively.
In addition to boasting a strong cast, ETC’s production of “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is marked by a set design that was brilliantly executed despite having a small stage.
Resident set and lighting designer Brian C. Mehring created a different set on each side of a single rotating wall, allowing an effective and efficient setup.
Gionfriddo’s writing is full of wit and charm, and the audience responded well to the play’s humor.
The more philosophical commentary on the history of feminist thought and movements threatened to bog down the production.
Through expository questionand- answer dialogue, Gionfriddo gives a whirlwind tour of American feminism, whipping the audience from the “domestic sphere” of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Phyllis Schlafly and the merits of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The scenes’ lengths and intellectual weight were, at times, too academic for a general audience.
Still, the classroom scene’s weight is overrun by the wit of Gionfriddo’s dialogue and drama between Cathy, Don and Gwen.
ETC’s production of “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is full of laughs and heart, thoughtfully raising questions about the role of women in today’s society.
The production runs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays with 2:00 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays until Oct. 27.
ETC offers half-priced student tickets two hours before shows.