BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The spirit of Wendy Wasserstein benevolently hovers over “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” a rich and thoughtful new play by Gina Gionfriddo that opened on Tuesday at Playwrights Horizons, which originally produced the late author’s Pulitzer-winning “The Heidi Chronicles.”
Like Wasserstein’s much-loved 1988 play, which this absorbing new comedy-drama resembles in style and theme if not in story specifics, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” considers whether a woman today can enjoy a terrific career as well as a rewarding family life.
A personable authority on feminist topics, single, 40-something Catherine (Amy Brenneman) returns home to live with her frail but feisty mother Alice (Beth Dixon). Catherine renews ties with a former best chum Gwen (Kellie Overbey) and her husband Don (Lee Tergesen), who once was Catherine’s lover.
The marriage obviously is rocky. As Catherine conducts a seminar on women’s issues at the college where Don is a dean, their romance rekindles. Aware of their affair, Gwen suggests that Catherine and Don try living together while she heads to New York to pursue her abandoned career.
Pot-smoking, porn-obsessed yet charming Don is no prize but Catherine gives in to true love only to discover that she cannot force him to live up to his potential. The conclusion proves to be bittersweet.
Gionfriddo’s bright, crisp dialogue winningly compensates for the somewhat contrived story, while her observations upon the evolution of feminism since the 1970s are insightful and often very funny, especially when three generations of women – an outspoken college student (Virginia Kull) represents the youngest viewpoint – trade their thoughts over martinis.
The characters are crafted as interestingly-layered individuals by Gionfriddo and warmly brought to life by a company of expert actors. Directed with finely-tuned nuance and energy by Peter DuBois, the play unfolds easily, thanks in part to the fluidity of designer Alexander Dodge’s suburban settings. Designer Mimi O’Donnell’s clothes nicely reflect the characters’ personalities.
One suspects that the entertaining yet penetrating “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is going to enjoy a long life among regional theaters in the future. The play presents a smart look at the paradoxes of feminist theory and practice today that is sure to keep theatergoers talking about it afterwards.
“Rapture, Blister, Burn” continues through June 24 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.