Feminism Alive or Dead in “Rapture, Blister, Burn?”
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s feminist play, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” starring Amy Brenneman is a hit at the Geffen Playhouse. This five character ensemble, directed by Peter Du Bois is an intelligent and witty dialogue between three generations of women who represent the pre-feminist, feminist, and the post-feminist movements. Many questions are posed by these women as to what rules do we, as women live by. And, it is no surprise that Catherine, who has sacrificed marriage and a family to have a successful career, wants the marriage and family that Gwen has. And, Gwen wants the education and career that Catherine has. The leveler might be the college student, Avery, who might be able to “have it all.” And, then there is pre-feminism represented by Catherine’s mother, Alice, who had very rigid rules to love by and did not question them. The play is quite a dissertation on feminism, with witty and sharp writing. It got bogged down a bit for me and felt like a Feminism 101 discourse.
As Act one opens, Catherine, the superstar author and celebrity has come home to take care of her mother, Alice who had a heart attack. The heart attack has made Catherine re-examine her values and relationships. Catherine is faced with her mother’s mortality and fears she will be left alone with no one to love her. No one can love her like her mother. As Catherine interacts with her former lover, and college professor, Don Harper and his wife, Gwen, Catherine is not so sure her path of career is the end-all she thought it was.
And, Gwen thinks the life Catherine is leading is far more fulfilling. Gwen got Don on the rebound when Catherine left for a plum position in England. Now, saddled with an underachieving husband and two children, the second one who was conceived to avoid a divorce, Gwen thinks Catherine has the ideal life. Basically, each is unfulfilled in some way and thinks the other has it better.
Don’s student, Avery, has her own opinions of what an ideal life should be. She thinks men and women should be equal. But, she has problems with her man, who is away. Don has arranged for Catherine to teach at his college, but he did not count on her teaching a seminar on feminism to his wife and his grad student.
This is where the play got bogged down for me. The discourse on feminism was just that, a discourse. And, the direction was weak with Brenneman staged in the same poses. Most of the time, her Catherine stood on those high platform heels and was awkward and gangly. Sometimes she sat while lecturing. There was no movement. And, It felt like lecturing rather than acting to me. The action was static, and it would have helped liven things up, during the long speeches, to have had different and more dynamic staging.
From Don’s perspective, the grass is greener on his neighbor’s lawn. And, his neighbor is none other than, Catherine, his former lover from years ago. Don is not happy in his marriage and faults Gwen. Maybe he could have been more, achieved more had he married Catherine.
We get the phases of feminism and we see how each followed a path based on feminist teachings that were popular at the time. But, life is fluid and even the great feminist thinkers had to re-think and adjust as they lived their lives. In between, there is simply the notion that people do have to grow and change and live up to their potential and find a balance between career and family
Don’s life sums up the problem. He settled and gave up the idea of writing some meaningful book and is a classic under achiever. He is into pot, porn and under achieving. What a catch! Yet, Catherine wants him. Maybe she can push him beyond those self-imposed limits? He is trapped. Gwen has no skills and did not finish her education. She sacrificed all to marry and have a family. She did not live up to her potential. She and Don have a sexless marriage. Avery wants to do a reality show with her boyfriend, who is her equal. She is of the post-feminist generation. And, Catherine’s mother is simply happy to have her martini and to have her freedom as a widow. She didn’t question as she was pre-feminist and lived in a male dominated world. She did what was expected of her.
Throw Phyllis Schlafly, post-feminist into the mix and watch what happens. Avery decides that men want to lead and see their women as weaker and as needing them. That was real for Alice’ generation. Alice had no way out. But, Avery knows more and knows she she is playing a role only to make her man feel good. For Catherine, Schlafly’s teachings are ten steps backward. Will the Phyllis Schlafly’s ideal really work?
We get about switches as our characters trade places. Each gets what they thought they wanted. Are they happy with the trade-offs? I won’t tell the plot lines. You have to see the play to find out. Here’s a hint. You can change lawns but you still have to water and mow the lawn or the grass dries out, turns brown, and dies. And, you have to pull out the weeds that can smother the grass.
The play was interesting and had valid conflicts, but it was unrealistic. Most people cannot trade places and lives and expect to trade back. That does not work in life. Basically, we each have to carve out a workable life for ourselves and find that balance. There is no one cookie cutter answer.
“Rapture, Blister, Burn” runs through September 21st at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Westwood. For show times and tickets call 310-208-5454 or go on line www.geffenplayhouse.com
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,”etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills, Community Services. To register, call 310-285-6850 M-F 9 AM-3:30 PM . Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. IMPROV COMEDY starts Monday, September 16th for 10 weeks and ON CAMERA COMMERCIALS starts Thursday, September 19th for 10 weeks. Each class is $150. For more information, contact Audrey at firstname.lastname@example.org or go on Line Registration to www.beverlyhills.org/BHRegOnline