"Rapture, Blister, Burn" at Playwrights Horizons, May 26, 2012
prize nominee Gina Gionfriddo returns Off-Broadway with a sharp look at
feminism, presented in a semi-scholarly love triangle. Catherine (Amy
Brennerman) has returned to take care of her mother (Beth Dixon) after a
heart attack, also in the same town where her college ex-boyfriend Don
(Lee Tergesen) now serves as a dean at a local liberal arts college and
is married to Catherine's college roommate Gwen (Kelley Overbey).
college, Catherine chose a life of academia and has published several
high profile books on popular culture and the role of women. Gwen never
finished her degree, taking the path of wife and mother, instead. Don,
once with great scholarly potential and a desire to teach, has fallen
into the path of inertia, working only as hard as he needs to, to make
ends meet. His position as dean pays better than teaching, yet requires
less mental engagement to get the job done.
Catherine's arrival at home finds her at loose ends,
thinking that her mother's heart attack signals her end sooner than
later. With no other life partner, she's looking for something to hold
onto. Don offers her a job teaching at the college. Her first class is
a seminar studying concepts put forth by Betty Friedan and Phyllis
Schlafly, among others.
It's an interesting exploration
as Catherine reconsiders her own life through the lens of Friedan and
Schlafly, with color commentary from her mother. Ms. Gionfriddo walks a
fine line between story and women's studies. Director Peter DuBois
maintains this compelling tale with a lot of laughs even though most of the plot points are
well-telegraphed early on. Even when you see it coming, the major plot twist still works.
Ms. Brennerman's Catherine stumbles and flounders
through her reconciliation of deciding where her life will go next. The
term "honest" keeps coming to mind as I think about her performance.
Ms. Overbey's Gwen has mastered the art of passive aggressive, wielding
her successful abstention from alcohol like a weapon. Mr. Tergesen's
Don is not quite so well-drawn, filling in more as a foil for the women
around him. Virginia Kull (recently seen in Assistance at PH), fills up her role as Avery, Don and Gwen's "Generation Now" babysitter, who finds much of the Friedan/Schlafly arguments inane in the 21st century with the self-righteous assurance of a 21 year old.
Alexander Dodge fits a lot of scenery onto the modest PH stage, borrowing a bit of shingled siding from Allen Moyer's set from Grey Gardens.
See this one while you can.
Rapture, Blister, Burn runs through June 24. See my earlier post for discount ticket information.