We went to see Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda last week. Ryan Rilette continues his wonderful run there as artistic director. For a time – with the stage set up as a living room classroom – I thought I was back at their excellent Seminar last year. In funny and uncomfortable ways, it was similar. But this play focused on the decisions we make in life and our propensity for the grass-is-greener approach. Funny, there’s a woman on Facebook who always seemed very cool to me with her posts, then I met her and she was awful. Now I laugh at those cool posts. Grass is not greener.
Rilette handled a talkback after the play in expert fashion. First he got any technical issues out of the way – hearing and seeing – and then he moved on to the issues of the play. He was so adept at getting quick comments from people and then moving along. So many others let people talk too long. It proved very interesting – especially compared to a terrible one I’d been at the previous week for Theater J’s Life Sucks. Funny, who would have thought that Ari Roth’s departure would have the biggest impact on their post-play discussion. They had two 20-somethings who obviously did not have experience with it and did not seem to know Chekhov either. I cringed when people complimented the humor of Aaron Posner’s version compared to the real Uncle Vanya. If anyone had seen Cate Blanchett’s version or even Wallace Shawn’s terrific film, you would know the humor is there.
I enjoyed Posner’s take – he’s a real craftsman and knows how to entertain – but part of me felt a little disturbed. In reality, Life Sucks is Uncle Vanya Cliff Notes. Everything that Chekhov left unsaid gets said here – the characters’ feelings, thoughts, bemusements. It’s funny and moving because he has set up these wonderful characters and an untenable situation. Interestingly, Vanya works when Yelena works – Julianne Moore in the film, Blanchett, and I must show my age to say that I saw the great Julie Christie play her on Broadway next to George C. Scott. Monica West is an import and she is up to the task. Her riffs to the audience are both squirmy (for guys at least) and comical. And the rest of the cast, especially Kimberly Gilbert, are wonderful as well.
Both of these plays are must-sees for the Washington audience. We should be grateful to have artists such as Posner, Rilette, Shirley Serotsky (the Theater J vet directing Rapture) and West come to and stay in our shores. Oh, and Rilette tackles Vanya later in the season! Is that beautiful poetry or what?