BWW Reviews: Geffen Aglow with RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN
What has happened in the last 20 years or so in the feminism camp, since Wendy Wasserstein's uber successful Heidi Chronicles? Playwright Gina Gionfriddo, like Wasserstein, capitalizes on the escapades of real-life characters caught up in the quest for 'the life not lived' in her installment Rapture, Blister, Burn now onstage at the Geffen Playhouse. It's a tad too long and talky, but, for that matter, what intelligent play is not? What's most fascinating about the play is its unyielding attempt to put a new spin on molding the lives of its characters. If traditional thinking may not be the best solution, a risky, edgy alternate plan comes into play. In short, it's the new versus the old.
Catherine Croll (Amy Brenneman) is a moderately successful teacher/author who returns to a small New England town to teach at a college where her boyfriend from 20 years previous Don Harper (Lee Tergesen) is now dean. He is married to Gwen (Kellie Overbey) who is rumored to have literally snatched Don away from Catherine during their good old days as college roommates. Don was once Catherine's match academically, but through the years has allowed himself to grow stale and unproductive. But, are both women still eager to fight over him? Yes, let the friction begin!
Catherine offers a summer seminar at the home of her aging, ill mother Alice (Beth Dixon), where she is visiting, simply because only two students have enrolled...the two students? Gwen and her former babysitter Avery (Virginia Kull). The course is an exploration of how women are represented/treated on film from the 40s through the 60s and up to present time. Gwen upholds Phyllis Schafly's stand that the housewife is a bonafide career choice, perhaps to justify her own existence, whereas young Avery, now stripping for a living, views the whole housewife syndrome as a dead end. Gionfriddo gives us a debate between Gwen's traditional way of thinking as opposed to Avery's totally contemporary, free and independent view of women's roles in society. When Alice, who happens to drop in to bring refreshments to the ladies, offers a story about when she was a girl, a Saturday night date was impossible without her parents' approval, Avery sharply retorts, "Why didn't you just tell your parents to f----off and accept your own responsibility for happiness?" Alice adds, "It just never would have happened." Yet, Alice is not that locked into tradition that she does not want her own daughter to be happy. In fact, she encourages Catherine to snatch Don away from Gwen with whom he is obviously dissatisfied. An eye for an eye! Alice, in old age, has her own fiery, young at heart opinions that seem to match those of Avery. Avery and Alice are the catalysts in the play, who spark the events whereby Catherine and Gwen compete head.on for Don. Like the 70s film The Turning Point both women want what the other has. Gwen wants a career and Catherine, a husband and family. Who will win? There's much of the rub of Rapture...
Under Peter DuBois' smooth pacing, all the actors are superb. Brenneman has her finest hour with Catherine, a famous supposed free spirit, who will do anything to get back what she has missed. Overbey, Tergesen, Dixon and Kull are equally dynamic, but it is the intelligent banter of Gionfiddo's ideas that come barreling one after the other without letup...that gives the piece its edge. By play's end when one considers how far women have come in the last 20 years, the answer is most likely positive, but not without much struggling, setbacks and frustration. The old versus the new: it's all a gamble, a crap shoot. But, life without turmoil and challenge is really not worth celebrating, now is it?