Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rapture, Blister, Burn

Play #30 - Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo

Let's be honest: there is just a little too much Phyllis Schlafly in this play for me to feel too comfortable with it. But I will say that this is probably the play of Gionfriddo's that I have enjoyed the most so far. The plot follows Gwen and Don Harper who have invited their old friend Catherine (Gwen's old roommate and Don's old girlfriend) to dinner. The three of them knew each other in graduate school - an endeavor that Don and Catherine finished, but Gwen did not. Catherine is now a successful author, scholar, and speaker, but has decided to come teach at the university where Don is the dean because it is near her mother's home, and her mother has just had a heart attack. To keep her mind busy, Catherine decides to offer a class over the summer, but the only students in it are Gwen and her babysitter Avery. The three women meet in Catherine's mother's house each week to discuss all sorts of feminist issues...and her mother Alice usually joins in with martinis and some quaint, old-fashioned notions about gender relations. In the course of these meetings, Gwen overshares about her marriage problems, and as frustrations about roads not taken snowball, Don and Catherine begin having an affair. Gwen confronts them about this, but rather than a bunch of apologies or retribution, the group comes up with a plan: if Gwen and Catherine are really this jealous of each other's lives, they should switch. Gwen will stay here with Don and the youngest child, and Gwen will go live in Catherine's New York apartment with their teenage son who wants to be an actor...maybe she'll even go back to school. At first, things seem to be working out pretty well for Don and Catherine. They move Don and his son into the house with Catherine and Alice, they have lots of sex, and they hang out all night watching movies and drinking. The cracks begin to show, however, when Catherine attempts to encourage Don to take more initiative in his career. Of course, he and Gwen end up going back to each other - content with each other's comfortable mediocrity. And Catherine and Avery decide to move to New York to live exciting, modern lives... much to Alice's delight.

It's no secret that I enjoy some good discussions of feminist theory, and there are some interesting conversations from time to time, but ultimately, I have a sort of hard time taking the play seriously. Relationships all seem to come down to manipulation and settling. There is a brief discussion about the question of how a relationship between two equals would really work - a question that is much more interesting to me than the ones that Gionfriddo chose to spend time on. The outlook for modern relationships seems pretty bleak in this setting. Avery and Catherine decide to "outsource" friendship and support to a female friend, assuming that such elements can't be found or sustained in a romantic relationship. And though they are going off to go live the Sex and the City dream, it feels more like everyone is just sort of giving up on equality within a relationship, or possibly equality in general. Perhaps I'm being too hard on these characters, perhaps I'm not giving Gionfriddo enough credit for a level of irony. I'm not sure. But I do leave the script with interest - I would like to see how these issues come to life on the stage - if they are able to be teased out with more nuance and sensitivity than I found on a first read.

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