Rapture, Blister, Burn keeps an impressive balance as its surfs several waves of feminism. The central figure of Gina Gionfriddo’s funny, keenly focused new play is Catherine (Amy Brenneman), a single, fortyish cultural-studies professor who has earned a national reputation by writing about trendy topics like porn and horror films. When her mother, Alice (Beth Dixon), has a heart attack, Catherine moves to New England, where—in crisis about her life choices—she reconnects with the apathetic Don (Lee Tergesen), an ex-boyfriend now mired in a glum marriage to her former roommate Gwen (Kellie Overbey).
In many ways, Rapture, Blister, Burn takes up where Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles left off in 1988, but in more explicitly academic terms. The practical applications of various attitudes toward women’s empowerment, from Rousseau through Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly, are debated among Catherine, Alice, Gwen and an adventurous student named Avery (a sparky Virginia Kull), and Gionfriddo has clever things to say about what men as well as women want. One may wish that the play gave Catherine a more original academic point of view, or that it strayed more loosely from its self-assigned curriculum, but Peter DuBois and his very capable actors—especially Brenneman, who suggests a younger Sigourney Weaver and nails Catherine’s confused intelligence—infuse the story with human dimension. As it picks apart the romance of equality, Rapture, Blister, Burn stays, as someone in the play describes a good toast, “biting yet generous.”—Adam Feldman
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