Huntington’s ‘Rapture’ a satisfying coda to season

Kate Shindle, Nancy E. Carroll, and Shannon Esper in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. May 24 – June 30, 2013 at South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. photo: T. Charles Erickson.

Kate Shindle, Nancy E. Carroll, and Shannon Esper in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. May 24 – June 30, 2013 at South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. photo: T. Charles Erickson.

BOSTON — You can have it all as a woman, says one camp. Family, kids, career, all doable and all done well.
Not so fast, say others. A woman on a strong career track must make sacrifices, and sometimes those come in the form of marriage and children.
The choices woman make are at the center of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” now through June 30 at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts.
Gionfriddo frames the choices made by two 40-something women as the template for the kinds of choices women are forced to make every day.

Timothy John Smith and Kate Shindle in in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. May 24 – June 30, 2013 at South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. photo: T. Charles Erickson.

Timothy John Smith and Kate Shindle in in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. May 24 – June 30, 2013 at South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. photo: T. Charles Erickson.

It is summer, and Catherine Croll (Kate Shindle) a successful scholar and TV pundit, has come home to a small New England town to care for her mother, Alice (Nancy E. Carroll), after Alice’s heart attack.
It gives her a chance to catch up with Gwen Harper (Annie McNamara), once her classmate in a graduate program. But there is as backstory, of course, that will closely connect the dots. Gwen’s husband Don (Timothy John Smith) was actually Catherine’s beau, until Catherine left for London for a year-long fellowship and Gwen moved in, forsaking her graduate degree to become Don’s wife and a mother.

Now both are questioning the tracks they took, Catherine for the lack of a family and Gwen for giving up a career to be a mother and homemaker.
Gwen asks Don to set up Catherine with a temporary appointment at his college while she is back in town, and she ends up teaching a class on feminist theory that ends up conveniently — just a little bit too conveniently, for my taste — with just two members in it: Gwen, and Avery Willard (Shannon Esper), Don and Gwen’s 21-year-old babysitter, who presents the younger generation’s views on sex, love and marriage.
Carroll as the aging Alice is the maternal glue who grounds the various characters. There is no denying her industrial strength comic timing — her “Time for a martini” draws laughs whenever she says it — and no one can make an entrance like Carroll, as Victor Garber et all found out in the Huntington‘s “Present Laughter.”
The martinis lead to revelations by all involved. Catherine is unsure about her decisions;
Avery questions the older generation’s hangups about sex; her current boyfriend, for instance, is just “hooking up” with another woman and having sex versus an actual emotional commitment, which is much more serious.
Gwen’s marriage is falling apart, with money woes adding to her husband’s pot and porn problems. She’d consider divorce, but can’t afford it.
“Having no money keeps us together,” she confides.
Then there is Alice, believing in commitment, and the kind of security that marriage provides.
Gionfriddo is not taking sides here, although housewife Gwen is by far most unsympathetic character. She presents through her characters the views from both ends pf the political spectrum, from Betty Friedan to Phyllis Schlafly.
As Don Harper, Timothy John Smith creates a drifting, feckless college dean with the aforementioned porn and pot problems, but the weather-beaten charm that first drew the women to him still surfaces occasionally.
He is stuck in a marital rut that he hopes he can climb out of via a reunion with — and a rekindling of — his previous relationship with Catherine.
Be careful, of course, what you wish for, which Gionfriddo reminds us at every twist and turn of as the plot evolves into a “trading places” scenario.
Catherine, who wants a real taste of what family life is like during her fling with Don, decides she will do everything she can to please him — including an overnight Bergman movie festival — in a bid to win him over permanently.
Gionfriddo reminds us once again our actions have consequences, and soon everyone’s world is turned upside down.
Yes, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is talky, but in a good way, with sparkling, witty dialogue.
Director Peter DuBois has shown his comfort level in working with Gionfriddo’s “Becky Shaw,” previously, and his pacing is brisk.
Nonpareil set designer Alexander Dodge uses slide-in pieces that allow the action to change smoothly say, from a patio outside the Crolls’ home to a living room inside.
As the weather warms and moods lighten with it, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” provides a satisfying, funny coda to the Huntington season.
The Huntington Theatre Company production of Gina Gionffrido’s “Rapture, Blister, Burn.” Directed by Peter DuBois. At the Calderwood Pavilion in the Boston Center for the Arts through June June 30. www.huntingtontheatre.org.

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