Rapture, Blister, Burn

Mainstage Theater

Written by Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Peter DuBois

After grad school, Catherine and Gwen chose polar opposite paths.  Catherine built a career as a rockstar academic, while Gwen built a home with her husband and children.  Decades later, unfulfilled in polar opposite ways, each woman covets the other’s life, commencing a dangerous game of musical chairs – the prize being Gwen’s husband.  With searing insight and trademark wit, this comedy is an unflinching look at gender politics in the wake of 20th century feminist ideals.

Amy Brenneman
Beth Dixon
Virginia Kull
Kellie Overbey
Lee Tergesen

Scenic Designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume Designer: Mimi O'Donnell
Lighting Designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound Designer: M.L. Dogg
Production Stage Manager: Lisa Ann Chernoff

Photos of (1) Amy Brenneman and Kellie Overbey; (2) Virginia Kull, Beth Dixon, and Amy Brenneman; (3) Amy Brenneman and Lee Tergesen; and (4) Beth Dixon and Amy Brenneman by Carol Rosegg.


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Playwrights' Perspectives

Gina Gionfriddo on "Rapture, Blister, Burn"

This is not the play I sat down to write. I wanted to write a play about Internet pornography. I didn't have a coherent position on the subject, but I felt the tug of an important question, and that's how I like to begin a play. What I did (and do) believe is that Internet porn is a massive generational game changer. My memories of trying to learn about sex as a kid in the early '80s sound like an episode of "The Little Rascals." We were always scheming to get our hands on some book we hoped was pornographic that inevitably wasn't. We huddled red-faced and snickering, calling public libraries in search of The Breast by Philip Roth. When we finally located a copy, we still had to procure a ride into the next state to get it. Fast-forward thirty years and any curious child with an Internet connection can just Google "sex" and watch people have it.


Tim Sanford and Gina Gionfriddo

Tim: I always like to know how a writer comes to playwriting. It's always an interesting journey. Gina: I was acting in high school and I thought I wanted to do that professionally. Then I went to Barnard here in New York, which was fortunate, because I was able to do a theater internship at Primary Stages and sit in on auditions. That kind of turned me off acting. That, in combination with an acting class I was taking at Columbia with an elderly professor who said I could only play ethnic types. So it was a very narrow range of roles I could do. And some of these ethnic teenager plays he referred me to frankly weren't very good. So I started thinking "Well, maybe I could try my hand at this." And Primary Stages was Off-Off Broadway at the time; they were doing brand new, hot-off-the-presses plays by fairly unknown writers.


Tim Sanford on "Rapture, Blister, Burn"

One might not immediately think of the ambivalence Gina Gionfriddo refers to in her bulletin piece as a natural jump-start to dramatic activation. But there's nothing tentative or self-negating about Gina's ambivalence. Artistically, she uses it to fling her characters into the far reaches of dramatic extremity. In olden times, comedies end in marriage and tragedies end with death. In Gina's world, death can be a launching pad for comedy (US Drag and After Ashley) and marriage can signal the slide into disaffection (Becky Shaw). She is a connoisseur of aftershocks, an anatomist of disappointment, andRapture, Blister, Burn teems with both.


The American Voice: Uncertainty Principle

It seems worth noting that, separately from one another and without knowledge of what each other was writing for this newsletter, Tim Sanford, Gina Gionfriddo and I were all struck by memories from another Playwrights Horizons premiere: Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles (1988), which tracks through its indelible protagonist a woman's journey through feminism and yuppie-ism to find her individuality. With a sharp pencil, Wasserstein crafted a cultural portrait that spans twenty-three years from 1965 to its present day. In a tour-de-force monologue positioned deep into the play, Heidi addresses a gathering of her fellow high school alumnae with a lecture entitled, "Women, Where Are We Going." A milestone in the contemporary canon, this play managed to cast the uncertainty of the here and now into sudden focus, snapping present-day lives into context. Of course, more time has elapsed between the writing of The Heidi Chronicles and the year 2012 than elapsed between The Heidi Chronicles and 1965, when Heidi's narrative began. Gender politics remains a splintered conversation that pervades just about every profession, art form, and social stratum; but the last two-and-a-half decades haven't seen another play, to my knowledge, that has taken so panoramic a snapshot.


Backstory: Horror 101

In Rapture, Blister, Burn, as rockstar academic Catherine whisks her motley class through a survey of feminism in the 20th century, she finds startling resonances in the history of horror flicks. "Horror movies can be read," she tells them, "as the collective nightmares of the generations that produced them." Taking a cue from Catherine, a quick look at the trajectory of the horror genre reveals an unexpected history of 20th century culture, as the anxieties and stresses unique to each decade are personified by the monsters we imagine, from zombies to psychopaths to enemies of state.