Rapture, Blister, Burn

  • Our critic's rating:
    June 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    Funny how things go in cycles. For instance there are a bunch of plays out there at the moment where the writers get to their point by way of Robin Hood’s Barn: Kenneth Lonergan, John Patrick Shanley and now Gina Gionfriddo. Along the way there is some seriously terrific material so it’s not like we are starved for good work.

    In this case, Gionfriddo is exploring feminism, and I say hooray to that. All that work we did can so often get swept under the rug – such as when a group of women are referred to as “you guys” for instance. Like Bruce Norris, Gioinfrido knows these issues are alive and well and can do with a bit of light shedding.

    Catherine (Amy Brenneman) – a bestselling non-fiction author whose specialty is Pornography and its effects on feminism as well as its place on the Internet - has returned home to take care of her mother Alice (Beth Dixon) who has recently had a heart attack but appears about as needy as a healthy gazelle. This hometown also contains Don (Lee Tergesen) who was Catherine’s first love, over whom she never got, and his wife Gwen (Kellie Overby) who was Catherine’s best friend before she hooked Don while Catherine was on sabbatical. There is a lot of history unresolved between these three. Gionfriddo spins out the tale and dots it with landmines. A little rapture, a little burn, a little blister.

    Against Alice’s protests, Catherine decides to stay in town. Don offers her a teaching position at the college where he is a dean with way too much time on his hands. As a filler – he offers her a summer class. The two students who show up at her door are Gwen and her kids’ babysitter, Avery, who has as many opinions as Catherine and most are radically different. Avery is full of herself and life, and Catheine is spending a lot of time looking in the rear view mirror.

    All these women have made choices, a la Betty Friedan as well as Phyllis Schlafly– and who has heard that name in a decade??? – and they are teaming with opinions. For instance Gwen is looking at what she gave up to be with Don, who is not at his best when he has too much time on his hands – like now for instance. Avery is weighing the pros and cons of relationship and noticing that you can be lonely alone or lonely in a relationship. What’s up with that? Alice is encouraging life wherever she sees it and measures out advice along with her daily martinis.

    Soon Catherine and Don are back in each other’s arms and they handle everything with civility in so far as Gwen is concerned. The two women actually switch places and take over the lives they thought were greener on the other side of the fence.

    But familiarity is a strong drug, and what is on the other side of the fence is, well, just on the other side of the fence. Nothing more!

    All of this rediscovery, examination and adventure planning takes a lot of time – and for the most part it is difficult to see where Gionfriddo is going. Not that I was bored, because these are enormous life elements that she lays out on the table. I was completely intrigued, but I soon gave up any hope for a sense of pacing or direction. Events happened, but I had no idea where we were all headed or why – there were however a lot of insightful observations and some delicious zingers along the way.

    In the final scene, however, it is Alice who ties the loose bits up in a bow of pure crystal, and it is in the last moments that you see what Gionfriddo intended. It is not a case of too little too late, but rather a case of, “Why didn’t you screw your courage to the sticking place and give us the news up front, Missy? Friedan and Schlafly would have.”

    "Intensely smart, immensely funny."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Smart, funny and lightning-paced."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "It’s about feminism, and it’s fun."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Packed with humanity, wit, and plenty of compelling argument, the show is a hugely entertaining cross between Bernard Shaw and Wendy Wasserstein."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Entertaining yet penetrating."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "The play is essentially all talk. But it's quite smart talk, lots of fun and full of insights "
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey - Variety