North Carolina Stage Company has a knack for finding plays that take on timely and complex issues. The current production, Rapture, Blister, Burn — onstage through Sunday, Nov. 19 — is a compelling look at the many facets of feminism and the ripples the movement creates in our society.
Charlie Flynn-McIver successfully treads far out onto the thin ice of this topic as a male director of Gina Giofriddo’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play. The show and subject certainly inspire serious debate and deep discussion, yet the play is presented in an unassuming, slice-of-life manner that causes audience members to drop their preconceived notions along with their guard as they are drawn into the lives of these fascinating characters, who are all too real.
Rebecca Morris’ Catherine is an accomplished academic who chased her dreams but gave up the man and potential family. Now in her 40s, she second-guesses that choice. Simultaneously, after writing two books on the subject of feminism, Catherine finds herself pigeonholed as smart and sexy. It’s a bruising irony that she is publicly judged first by her attractiveness.
Don is the man who was left behind by Catherine’s ambition and feels as though he lived in the long-cast shadow of Catherine’s striving. Don’s ego could not handle the fact that Catherine was the smarter and more accomplished of the two of them. He married Catherine’s roommate, Gwen. Twenty years and two children later, he and Gwen are now also questioning their choices.
As Don, Chris Allison gives a vulnerable performance nuanced with sadness and sincerity. Kristin Reitter’s Gwen starts as a desperate housewife caricature defending her life as a strong feminist choice, yet begins to question it aloud for the first time. While confident in their decisions, both women find themselves wondering if the emptiness in their lives could be filled with what the other has.
The conundrum of midlife crisis is bookended by two strong women from the generation before and after the central triangle. Kay Galvin gives a sly wit to Alice, Catherine’s mother. Her recent heart attack has drawn her daughter back home. Alice actually needs no caretaking but seems to understand Catherine’s growing struggle of confidence.
Meanwhile, as young college student/baby sitter/aspiring online reality star Avery, Chloe Babbes gives the millennial perspective, which is one of less baggage and attachment, and therefore fewer consequences of actions. Babbes is wonderful as the sassy young woman who finds all the consternation confusing. To Avery’s mind, they are all taking it far too seriously.
Theater shines best when it reflects the true lives and struggles of the audience members in a way that moves them and makes them think. N.C. Stage delivers just such an experience in this play.
WHAT: Rapture, Blister, Burn
WHERE: N.C. Stage, 15 Stage Lane, ncstage.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Nov. 19. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. $16-34