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Springs Ensemble Theatre's Rapture, Blister, Burn provides discourse with its drama

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Matt Radcliffe (left) and Kara Carroll bring some much-needed humanity to their characters. - JOHN ZINCONE
  • John Zincone
  • Matt Radcliffe (left) and Kara Carroll bring some much-needed humanity to their characters.

Good theater and feminist theory rank among my personal favorite things, so from my perspective Springs Ensemble Theatre's Rapture, Blister, Burn lands somewhere between fun and thought-provoking, providing some thoroughly raucous laughter alongside intelligent conversation about what feminism means to different generations of women.

The play follows Catherine (Holly Haverkorn), who returns to her hometown after making it big as a feminist author and scholar. She has to deal with the fact that Gwen (Kara Carroll), her old college roommate, remains unhappily married to Catherine's ex-boyfriend, Don (Matt Radcliffe), for whom Catherine still carries a torch.

Its action hinges on a class taught by Catherine, with only Gwen, Gwen's former babysitter Avery (Haley King) and occasionally Catherine's mother (Karen Anderson) as students. As they talk through feminist theory and its real-life implications, Catherine and Gwen start to realize that the choices they've made don't reflect the values they have now, and they begin to envy each other for the lives they lead.

The characters act as mouthpieces for the conflicting ideals that make feminist theory so opaque. How sex-positive is too sex-positive? Is it demeaning to be a housewife? What happens if you change your mind after sacrificing family for your career? What role do men play in a woman's happiness? What does it mean to be free? Equal? Is any brand of feminism more valid than another?

Any personal answers to these questions aside, Rapture, Blister, Burn remains an enjoyable play. Where Catherine and Gwen are presented as the more serious of the characters, they still manage excellent timing on the jokes they are given, and Carroll's initial awkwardness in the role of Gwen is infectious. Moreover, King delivers Avery's contradictory and surprisingly wise lines in a skeptical deadpan, which seldom fails to inspire a little laughter. Radcliffe, sauntering around the stage with a beer in his hand, plays the loser husband convincingly, but with a sort of self-aware tenderness that helps avoid turning the character of Don into caricature of that trope.

And that stands out as one of Rapture, Blister, Burn's greatest qualities. Each of these characters carries infinite potential for exaggeration. For instance, Avery, the sex-positive third-wave feminist, could have been depicted as a naive youth, while Gwen, the stay-at-home mom, could come off as overly prudish. But the script, and the actors' thoughtful performances highlight the characters' vulnerabilities and strengths, which make them more realistic and easier to relate to.

The theoretical and historical discussion can feel overdone, a bit like returning to college courses on feminism, but otherwise Rapture, Blister, Burn serves as an open-ended look at questions we all struggle with, and it's certainly good for a laugh, too.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Sundays, 4 p.m.; through June 4, Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 Cache La Poudre St., $10-$15, springsensembletheatre.org.

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