Moving the Line

801458d3 d6e3 4745 92f5 dd51e46cc66dIn Rapture, Blister, Burn (being presented by Iowa Stage at the Kum & Go Theatre starting May 10), friends confront their choices in life, each wondering what might have happened if they’d followed another path. But some paths are chosen, and others are decided upon because of outside influences. Director Kristin Larson and her cast dramatize those journeys, and wonder how you get from here to there when the world keeps moving the finish line.

Author Gina Gionfriddo’s play Rapture, Blister, Burn presents the audience with some clearly defined points of view with her characters. Catherine (played by Karen Schaffer) and Gwen (Alissa Tschetter-Siedschlaw) became friends back in their college days, but ended up heading in different directions after school. While Catherine opted for career and travel, Gwen settled down with what would be considered a “more traditional” home, husband, and family. When they meet up again years later, each starts to wonder what might have been… and where those other roads might have led.


The last half century has been one of upheaval for women in America, and while Catherine and Gwen are dealing with their own situations, their friends Alice (Etta Berkowitz) and Avery (Maia Craddock) have their own ideas. Alice is older and grew up in a society with many more constrictions on what was “expected” for women, while young Avery is in a far different and constantly changing environment. So each comes with their own ideas, expectations, and choices… all standing on constantly shifting sand, seeking some kind of purchase.


Changing Expectations

969a6cd7 a922 450a 9f71 d7bbce5c269a“With Rapture, Blister, Burn we’re looking at three generations of societal expectations,” says Karen Schaffer. “I think women have moved away from societal expectations through the generations where society held great sway over Alice’s generation. Society had less influence, albeit still some influence, over Gwen and Catherine. Women have finally reached the place, with Avery’s generation, where there are few hard expectations and much more acceptance for women who follow a non-traditional path.”


So, what’s the right choice? Is there such a thing? It’s a curious argument, especially when decisions are made dependent on so many factors, both personal and societal. Director Larson believes this makes for a great stage presentation. 


“I think what is interesting about this question,” she says, “is that it makes one wonder if the play might have some answers on this topic, or even some solid advice, and I don’t think it does. I think the play is a fabulously engaging, brutal romp through some of the choices these characters make (or have made and regret) in relation to these questions. I don’t think the play has a noble theme about the power of the female or a celebration of meaningful choices, I think it rips into the particular lives of these characters and reveals them at their most vulnerable and confused as they navigate this balance between their own hopes for fulfillment and the realities and expectations of the world.”


B43eb830 3731 49ac a879 eadd2fb98f98Personal Choices

Of course, when performing a play such as Rapture, Blister, Burn, there is a specific path for the characters to follow, and it’s delineated by the script. While the actors have choices in how to play their parts, their characters’ words and points of view are pretty much there on the page. But the strong and capable women involved in this production each have had to confront similar issues in their own lives, and make their own decisions about where they are going and what they want to achieve.


Schaffer has found her own path, as a successful playwright and performer, and also has the marriage part of the equation with husband Max (who has generously contributed to the Guide in articles about previous shows). So walking in her character’s shoes has been an interesting time for her.


“I don’t think it is a case of grass is always greener for Catherine. I think she always wanted to get married and have kids. Finding ‘her person’ never happened. It’s difficult being a strong female in a male dominated society. There are plenty of men who would share her bed but not share her life, and allow her to be the dominant partner. In my personal life, I haven’t had to pick between either-or… it’s been more of a now-or-later choice. I am very blessed to have Max as my partner. We discuss and make decisions together. We work together and support each other so we can realize those wants and dreams.”


6d4f1568 2a89 4a93 b04f c0869e27838eExchanging Ideas

Discussions have been a vital part of everyone’s experience with Rapture, Blister, Burn. The differing positions and beliefs of the characters, and the women portraying them, have led to some late nights and intense conversation.


“I was never surprised by our conversations,” says Schaffer. “I felt from the beginning there was an openness with this group. We are all here to give this story a voice. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with this group of people. They are supportive and giving. I hope that comes across in our performances. I hope the audience will find parts of this story relatable, funny, and poignant.”


“We surely have discussed some real life questions related to the play,” comments Larson, “but I won’t reveal those secrets! Let me say that this play has inspired a LOT of passionate and meaningful conversations. Indeed, the play has sparked some good debate as well, and I think we have used these conversations to our advantage to allow the play to actually speak for itself, rather than attempting to blanket it with a thematic idea or favor one point of view over another.”


832b306b 58ea 42d4 a067 ef1c4c6cbf5c“I think audiences will feel engaged, shocked, and maybe even a little disturbed by the play. I think they will also find some parts sneakily hilarious, and some outright funny. They might shed a tear for the heartbreak. The actors and designers are superb, and they are revealing the uniqueness of the characters and the world. I hope that audiences will be discussing and debating the character choices after the performance!”


And ultimately, each person will come to their own conclusion about Rapture, Blister, Burn, and what these women all go through. But all of us will keep charging towards our own finish, no matter where that might be. Or how it keeps changing.


Rapture, Blister, Burn is presented by Iowa Stage at the Kum & Go Theatre beginning May 10 and running through May 20. Tickets are available through the Iowa Stage website or at the door while available.

Kristin Larson Iowa Stage Rapture Blister Burn Karen Schaffer