“Rapture, Blister, Burn,” the newest offering at Geffen Playhouse, is a study in feminist history, without becoming didactic or a diatribe.
Cathy, a single, successful professor with a sideline career as a renowned feminist author (“the doomsday chick,”) has made a rather unfortunate phone call while under the influence of copious quantities of vodka. The call was to her former college roommate Gwen, who is married to her former college boyfriend Don, and in it she reveals far too much about dissatisfaction with her life.
It turns out that Cathy went off to England for an opportunity she couldn’t miss; though she asked Don to join her, he chose not to go. And while she was gone, Gwen took Don away from her.
Now, years later, Gwen, too, is dissatisfied. Her husband’s a stoner, a drinker, a purveyor of online porn and a dean at a small college who lacks ambition for a more accomplished life. Gwen wishes she had finished her college degree so that she might have a career like Cathy’s. She describes her role in the relationship as “Don’s to-do list.”
Cathy comes to visit Gwen, and as each longs for the other’s life, the disruption they cause to their lives will prove unsatisfying to everyone.
The original New York cast of Gina Gionfriddo’s play has come west, and features Amy Brenneman (“Judging Amy”) as Cathy, Kellie Overbey as Gwen, Lee Tergesen as Don and two wonderful scene-stealing characters: Cathy’s mom Alice (Beth Dixon) and student/babysitter Avery (Virginia Kull).
If you weren’t awake or alive during the 1960s and ‘70s, this play will give you a historical and hysterical overview of the evolution of feminism, as well as a practical primer on its application — or misapplication — in the 21st century.
The words of wisdom from a prior generation’s experience come from Alice, who bar none, has some of the funniest show-stopping lines in the play.
Avery, the student, represents the current generation of young women who get what they want when they want it sexually (i.e., “hooking up”) without emotional attachments, finally achieving what men have always done. But maybe she’s a little more involved than she thinks with her current “partner,” with whom she’s trying to create a reality TV show.
While overall I found the play to be witty and mostly wise, I found the first act slow going and quite verbose. Avery and Alice won my heart, while Gwen struck me as shrill and whiny. I found it almost improbable for someone as smart as Cathy to still have the hots for Don, who’s kind of a loser.
But dramatic license is what it is (so is the sex drive), and the play has many laughs; you’ll want to argue with your friends about what it all really means and who the winners and losers are based on your own life’s experience.
“Rapture, Blister, Burn” is at The Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through Sept. 22. Visit www.geffenplayhouse.com or call (310) 208-5454 for more info or tickets.
Santa Monica Repertory Theater, the acclaimed Westside theater company, has just announced the creation of a new theater festival, WaveFest, Sept. 7 through Oct. 13 at the Church in Ocean Park.
WaveFest is comprised of three “waves” of short plays over six weekends. Centered on the theme “Go West,” they’ll explore stories of the Westside and Southern California through the lens of history, neighborhood, cultural group, class status, age, myths and the entertainment industry.
Plays will include pieces by contemporary Los Angeles and Santa Monica playwrights along with staged snippets of fiction and poetry by well-known writers with local connections, including Bertolt Brecht and Raymond Chandler. The plays will be interspersed with music, poetry and dance. The festival will use the entire historic church, with the audience moving from piece to piece in the large, beautiful space.
The Rep, founded three years ago by three Santa Monica residents, Eric Bloom, Jen Bloom, and Sarah Gurfield, has produced a line up of fully staged productions, a monthly story-telling series at the YWCA and a staged play series at Santa Monica Public Library — a surprisingly impressive list of accomplishments.
The festival explores a host of issues from homelessness (“Indivisible”) to the affluent “ladies who lunch” on Montana (“The Santa Monica Musical Extravaganza”) and the environment (“A Water Story”).
There are also glimpses into Santa Monica history: famed German writer Brecht’s exile here in the ‘40s, racism at Santa Monica’s Ink Well Beach, a nostalgic look at the Santa Monica Pier in the ‘50s, and a lively look at the 1930s with its gangsters, movie stars, gambling ships and the famed “Battle of Santa Monica Bay.”
Performances take place at the Church in Ocean Park, 235 Hill St. Tickets are only $20. For more information visit www.SantaMonicaRep.org or call (213) 268-1454.
Next week I’ll be attending the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company’s 20th anniversary all-female production of “Hamlet” at the Odyssey Theatre on Saturday night (Sept. 7).
I’ll also let you know about another Odyssey show (Sept. 6), “In My Corner,” a unique production that mixes tap dance, boxing and music into the story of a street-smart wise guy, Joe Orrach, a Puerto Rican kid from New York who comes of age in the ring and at the barre. It all takes place to the beat of Latin, jazz and rock n’ roll music with live musicians.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.