Comedian Louis CK once received a round of shouts and boos when he told Daily Show host Jon Stewart “Feminists can’t take a joke.” CK smiled at the negative reaction because it demonstrated the real nature of the humor: the meta reaction is the value of a joke.
The Aux Dog Theatre’s production of “Rapture, Blister, Burn” feels much like a meta joke about feminism by feminists, and the script is nothing if not clever and self-aware right to the bitter end.
The set is creatively accomplished and the scene changes are fantastic, if a bit jarringly well-lit. The transitions are lightning-fast and often punctuated by multimedia projection. The films and YouTube clips mentioned by name in the play engulf the entirety of the stage.
This compensates for the play’s problem of awkward scene endings.
More in the style of television or film, the final lines of many scenes offer little resolution and instead make an abrupt end.
The characters in the play, unfortunately, are not people — they’re ideologies. Each actor is given a theoretical stand point, but there is a disconnect between what the characters express and the people they represent.
The rhetoric is dense and articulate, the tone rigorous and academically thorough. The text is thick, smart and slow, taking its time with its ideas and letting the audience question what the “real point” is.
Through the many lenses of feminism, the play seeks to discuss identity. Each character is inherently and violently insecure, which seems in-step with a view of people as isolated, socially hungry animals.
With that in mind, it is strange to see so many people being neurotic in every way possible and to watch such young women have early mid-life crises.
Sara Rosenthal portrays an annoyingly precocious teenager, Avery. Rosenthal waves her hands and gesticulates constantly, pointing at more things than an octopus in a blender. Avery is likely intended to be the thoughtful new generation of college women, but Rosenthal’s youthful sageness is mostly grating and cartoonish.
Jessica Osbourne plays Gwen, the almost anachronistic housewife.
Gwen is fundamentally unlikable: constantly distraught, compulsive and manically hysteric. If the play is about people who are individually are unhappy, Gwen’s cries for help and constant hounding for valium are far beyond desperate.
Gail Gillock Spidler plays Alice, a representative of the older, more conservative generation who didn’t grind gentiles in clubs and never, ever got pregnant via sex.
Sheridan Johnson is Catherine, an empowered modern intellectual who has yet to find a man who likes strong women. Johnson plays through the beats well enough as a functioning protagonist, but does not truly come alive until Catherine’s emotional breakdown near the play’s climax.
Finally, Ryan Montenery plays Don, the man at the center of the play’s action. Montenery’s performance is modest and simple, adding a noticeable naturalism to the flashy flamboyance going on around him.
“Rapture, Blister, Burn” attempts to bridge human drama with high-minded academia, and that may not work for all people. It looks for universality and application in heavy theory, but may not connect to everyone.