Sunday, May 27, 2012

‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’: The Creator of 'Becky Shaw' Is Back With a Splendid New Play

Virginia Kull, Beth Dixon, and Amy Brenneman in "Rapture, Blister, Burn"
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Playwright Gina Gionfriddo, who a couple of years back gave us the sharply comic Becky Shaw (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), is back with Rapture, Blister, Burn, an equally smart and funny new play that pits feminist theory against the complicated reality of human relationships, and where Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly both emerge as worthy role models.

As she did with Becky Shaw, Gionfriddo proves herself to be a great weaver of a complex tapestry, in which the obvious and predictable become less and less so as the play moves along, while still leading us to a most satisfying ending.

If you are not quite sure who Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly are, or if you need to brush up on First-Wave, Second-Wave, and Third-Wave Feminist Theory, no worries!  Cathy, a renowned author and professor of women’s studies, is on hand to elucidate.    

Cathy has taken a leave of absence from her prestigious job and apartment in New York City to return to her family home somewhere in suburban New England, ostensibly to care for her mother, Alice, who has suffered a mild heart attack. 

Once we meet Alice, however, and see how peppy, independent, and full of life she is, we begin to wonder whether Cathy might be seeking something else entirely.  Could it be Don, the man she was once in love with and whom she lost to her college roommate Gwen? 

Of course, that is all in the past.  Gwen and Don have been married for 15 years and have two sons.  Gwen is a stay-at-home mom, while Don is a dean at the local college.  Very settled.   

Or not.

Don has secured Cathy a teaching job at his college starting in the fall, but she will also teach a feminist seminar during the summer term.  She only has two students, Gwen and Avery, Gwen and Don’s former babysitter.  They will hold their weekly meetings at Alice’s home. 

Granted, this is a writer’s setup, but what a great setup it is, since it allows for three generations of women to come together to consider the impact of feminism of the lives of U. S. women over the years.   Alice is in her 60s, Cathy and Gwen in their 40s, and Avery in her 20s.  Their discussions, which take up a large portion of Act I, are most enlightening in showing how quickly perceptions have changed over a short span of time. 

And because the group is so intimate, the conversations, fueled in part by the martinis that Alice mixes and serves each week, quickly move from the intellectual to the personal. 

Gwen, who is a recovering alcoholic, is sick of her slacker pot-smoking, beer-guzzling, porn-addicted husband (a “charming devil” he calls himself; you decide) and wishes she could have the kind of free and productive life she envisions Cathy as having.  For her part, Cathy, faced even fleetingly with the thought of her mother’s mortality, feels she has missed out on the stability and comfort of a husband and children. 

You may be able to guess at some of the plot twists—but not all of them.  Gionfriddo has a way of keeping you off balance by making sure her characters are reliably unpredictable, and she reminds us that in the war between mind and heart, the winning side is never a sure bet.  

So raise a glass to Alice and to Betty Friedan and, yes, even to Phyllis Schlafly, as well as to Gina Gionfriddo for giving us this splendid new play.

And kudos to director Peter DuBois and the entire ensemble cast:  Kellie Overbey as Gwen, Amy Brenneman as Cathy, Lee Tergesen as the hapless Don, Virginia Kull as Avery, and especially Beth Dixon as Alice, the kind of mother any woman (or man) would want to have, about whom Cathy understands that no one will ever love her more.


Regular run:  May 18-June 24
Tues 7, Wed-Fri at 8, Sat at 2:30 & 8, Sun at 2:30 & 7:30
Additional Monday evening perf June 11 at 7

Order by June 5 and use the code RBBLOG [note two B’s]
$40 (reg. $70) for all performances May 18-27
$50 (reg. $70) for all other performances May 29-June 24


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