by Gina Gionfriddo
directed by Peter DuBois
originally produced at Playwrights Horizons ,
New York, NY .
May 18, 2012
through June 24, 2012
After graduate school, Catherine and Gwen chose polar opposite paths. Catherine built a career as a rockstar academic, while Gwen built a home with her husband and children. Decades later, unfulfilled in polar opposite ways, each woman covets the other’s life, commencing a dangerous game of musical chairs – the prize being Gwen’s husband. With searing insight and trademark wit, this comedy is an unflinching look at gender politics in the wake of 20th century feminist ideals.
As a Gina Gionfriddo fan, I was pleased and unsurprised that her last play, Becky Shaw, garnered so much attention and praise, including being chosen as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I had been tracking Gina’s career with keen interest since her teacher at Juilliard, Christopher Durang, championed her work to me. And shortly after her production of After Ashley came to New York several years ago, we commissioned her to write the play that has become Rapture, Blister, Burn. I am proud to present the world premiere of this ambitious, timely, complex play this season.
The two protagonists of Rapture, Blister, Burn, Catherine and Gwen, were best friends during graduate school. Catherine went on to become a star academic in feminist theory, leaving Gwen behind with her ex-boyfriend, Don, to hook up and marry. Twenty years later, both women ponder roads not taken and seem to covet each other’s life. When Catherine returns home to visit her ailing mother, she seizes the occasion to get back in touch with Gwen and Don to heal—or stir up—old conflicts. Looking for work, Catherine asks Don for the opportunity to teach a summer class at the undistinguished local college where he is a dean. Gwen wants to take this class. So does Avery, Gwen’s decidedly post-feminist coed babysitter. Since they meet at Catherine’s house, even Catherine’s mother gets drafted into the class discussion. These informal classes seem to cover almost every post-feminist viewpoint on a wide range of subjects. But they also excite an equally wide range of emotions. Things come to a head between Gwen, Catherine and Don and all three of them seem to get their wish, at least temporarily. Then things fall apart. Progress? Hardly.
I believe Rapture, Blister, Burn is on its way to becoming a seminal post-feminist play: a play of ideas of its time and for its time. Its working presumption that ideas have consequences is both its greatest strength and its greatest challenge. Gina’s ideas have such eye-opening, almost Shavian salience that we’re happy just to hear them. But Gina’s greatest gift as a dramatist lies in the deep-seated emotional turmoil and ambivalence that defines the relationship of her characters to the world.
It never ceases to amaze me how plays almost unintentionally reflect their times. Almost all of the plays Playwrights Horizons produced last year are filled with a kind of humanist glow. And I’ve come to realize that almost all of them began in their first drafts in the middle of Obama’s candidacy and election. Rapture, Blister, Burn is very clearly a post-Obama play. It is very much about disappointment and frustrated aspirations. It may hurt to hear, but it is also invigorating. Such is the nature of truth.
-Tim Sanford, Artistic Director
As of this writing, Gina is still in the process of activating the ideas in her play and streamlining the deliciously provocative classroom scenes. Playwrights Horizons gave her a week with actors in summer 2011 to work on it further, but the rehearsal period for the world premiere production will be a crucial time for Gina to see the play on its feet and edit her script based on the work coming out of the rehearsal room. The Edgerton Foundation’s grant allows us to add a week to the rehearsal period, giving Gina and director Peter DuBois time to benefit from the collaborative input of the really great actors we expect to attract to the play, which is sure to deepen Gina’s thinking further.
Director: Peter DuBois