Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Rapture, Blister, Burn
West End Players Guild
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of Dracula


Nicole Angeli, Elizabeth Van Pelt, Mara Bollini, and Donna Weinsting
Photo by John Lamb
At first I thought, "this play is cast all wrong!"

Then, at intermission I thought, "well, I can see it, but what a waste of all that great comedic talent."

And then, halfway through act two (when the laughs and shocks go flying endlessly across the metaphorical footlights) I thought, "wow, this play is cast amazingly well!

The only thing that had changed, of course, was the rocky path of romance, and the scintillating philosophies of the characters on stage, in Gina Gionfriddo's 2012 bittersweet comedy. Gradually everything comes into focus, as we see things through the eyes of some very cleverly written women.

Oh, and the other thing that changed was my perception of the one "non-funny" actress on stage: Mara Bollini plays a wife and mother in a sweetly sad spiral down into middle age. But she's surrounded by (maybe) half of the funniest women in town, and unexpectedly getting most of the laughs, in act one. It's delightful, but strangely disconcerting. You begin to wonder why these other three (normally) hilarious women are there at all.

But then you console yourself with the knowledge that almost no one understands structure and honesty better than a comedian (or, here, a comedienne). So gifted comic actors Nicole Angeli, Donna Weinsting, and Elizabeth Van Pelt get to show a an unusually dour, nuanced (and quietly funny) sense of drama for that first hour—while the quiet, heartwarming Ms. Bollini rakes in all the laughs.

Stephen Peirick directs, with excellent attention to detail—seating Ms. Angeli on an ice chest, for example, when she fears she's aging out of the marriage pool. And he seems to know (with complete confidence) where all those strange laughs will explode. Even though it's a surprising minefield of comedy for the rest of us.

There is one man on stage, Jeff Kargus, and while he's shown plenty of range in other shows, he's just the manly object of desire in a women's love triangle here. It's not a terribly demanding role, but he fills it up with a finely etched despair and boyish charm (even when he's talking about a porn addiction). And it's his character's overall appeal, in spite of lowly aspirations, that sets the play in motion.

Ms. Angeli (as a well-known feminist author) makes a load of didactic dialog seem breezy and interesting and wry, and even creates an intriguing dramatic trellis out of all the feminist history laid on the table, for the rest of the story to grow upon (it's that comedian's story-telling ability). At the same time, she endures a sort of migraine-inducing concern over her character's mother, who is recovering from a heart attack. And once her mother's gone, like many of us in the 21st century, it looks like she will (sadly) be the last best expert on herself.

Donna Weinsting plays that aging mother, ultra realistic in her delivery, though perhaps it should be noted that she and Ms. Bollini also have the luxury of not having to lay all the serious, bookish foundation of the women's movement 100% of the time (the younger women's discussions of feminism and horror films is pretty eye-opening, though). Ms. Weinsting, as the senior citizen on stage, also leads a look back into history—with a funny and slightly shocking recollection of the importance of shame in any good marriage, in years gone by.

Elizabeth Van Pelt, as the youngest woman on stage, makes laugh-magic out of the most hard-nosed political elements of womanhood, and then manages to cobble together a hilarious and unlikely new philosophy to guide them all, after some great laughs and surprising plot twists.

But because of the natural gifts of the actresses, and the fine direction, the dialog between the laughs and between the moments of decision has the electric realism of almost anything by Chekhov. And somewhere in there, Ms. Van Pelt (as Avery) has a line about how all our failures seem to stem from "personal mythologies." And that could certainly apply to any of the 19th century Russian's sad comedies.

In Rapture, Blister, Burn it also works as a very gentle criticism of all the women brought to life in this laugh-filled production.

Through November 22, 2015 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, Union and Enright Aves., a block north of Delmar. For more information visit www.westendplayers.org.

Cast of Characters
Catherine Croll: Nicole Angeli
Alice Croll: Donna Weinsting
Avery Willard: Elizabeth Van Pelt
Gwen Harper: Mara Bollini
Don Harper: Jeff Kargus

Crew
Director/Set Design: Stephen Peirick
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Dani Mann
Dramaturg: Sarajane Alverson
Lighting Design: Amy Ruprecht
Sound Design & Board Op: Mary Beth Winslow
Costumes: Tracey Newcomb
Props: Anna Blair
Graphic Design: Marjorie Williamson
Box Office Manager: Danny Austin
House Manager: Carrie Phinney
Program: Sean Belt
Social Media Intern: Alex Gow


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