Don’t read too much into the title of “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” the comic drama playing at Theatre on the Square in downtown Indy through Saturday.
The words might refer to the “rapture” of romantic love, which sours into feeling “burned.” I have even seen comparisons to the flight and fall of Icarus, though you’ll find no wax wings on the TOTS stage.
According to playwright Gina Gianfriddo, this work started as an examination of the effects of Internet pornography in the context that while in her 1980s youth she had to go to great lengths to find porn, today’s kids only have to click a few keys on their devices. But this notion evolved into her writing of the ways people, especially women, think and act differently from those in the feminist wave of the late 20th century — as her peers did from the generation before.
Thus we have the story of two women who were once friends and college classmates. One, Cathy (played by Carrie Ann Schlatter), went on to be a best-selling author and lecturer. The other, Gwen (Kimberly Ruse-Roberts), married their mutual friend Don (Clay Mabbitt) and had two children as a stay-at-home mom. Don, meanwhile, cultivated a path-of-least-resistance career in academia. We meet them as Cathy has accepted a teaching job at Don’s college to be close to her mom, Alice (Bridget Schlebecker), who had a heart attack the previous year.
Cathy teaches a women’s studies summer class with just two students, Gwen (claiming she’s finishing her degree) and Avery (Megan Medley), Gwen and Don’s former baby sitter. The class discusses feminist perspectives (including the issue of easy access to porn) as they relate to recent generations. We can forgive this simplistic device to set up stage dialogues between a millennial (Avery), generation X (Gwen and Cathy) and a baby boomer (Alice), because there is a bit more going on: Cathy and Gwen are both miserable and wish for each other’s lives. So how about if Cathy settles down with Don and Gwen gets a chance to live single and free to pursue her passions?
Schlatter, a regular at the nearby Phoenix Theatre, makes an excellent TOTS debut, portraying someone good at pretending she has her life in order while subtly revealing her frayed edges.
Ruse-Roberts makes the most of a more raw character, hungry for something different, jealous of those who have it, yet afraid of the changes it would bring.
Medley seems mostly there to make younger audience members look up from their iPhones to say, “Uh huh, that sounds right.” But she manages to give Avery some dimension, and the second act allows her to better fit into the plot.
Schlebecker is charming as usual in another elder role, but in a story that allows her to play a bit more edgy, especially when advising Cathy in stealing Don’s affections.
As for Don, Mabbitt does well as the prize that is fought over, or is he just a simple pet choosing which mistress to follow? While he doesn’t chafe at being a character of lesser substance, he eventually does get to assert the need to ensure his own happiness.
The show even gives a glimpse at a fourth generation, as Don and Gwen talk about their teen son and how he alters their expectations.
Veteran Indy actor Rob Johansen directs, noting he relied a lot on feedback from his female actors to ensure the feminist perspective. A wise choice.
Overall, the play yields a number of laughs and some food for thought. Mature language makes the content roughly PG-13 (teens and older). Find it on the mainstage at 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis. Call 317-685-8687 or see tots.org.