A 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Becky Shaw (Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival; Second Stage Theatre; Almeida Theatre in London). Her other plays include After Ashley (ATL’s Humana Festival; Vineyard Theatre); U.S. Drag (in New York by Clubbed Thumb and the stageFARM); and the one-acts Squalor and America’s Got Tragedy (the stageFARM). She has received an Obie Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, an Outer Critics Circle Award, the Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights and an American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg citation. She has written for the television dramas “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Cold Case,” “Borgia,” and “House of Cards” (upcoming from Netflix). She has contributed essays on rock music to the literary journal The Believer and short fiction to Canteen. Currently she is working on a new play commission from Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. (As of August 2010)
CRITIC'S PICK! INTENSELY SMART AND IMMENSELY FUNNY, with sharp-witted dialogue. Under the finely honed direction of Peter DuBois, the cast brings Gina Gionfriddo’s characters to fully felt life. Amy Brenneman exudes a brisk intelligence and a telegenic beauty.
—Charles Isherwood, New York Times
4 STARS. A smart, funny, and lightning-paced look at feminism. The cast is top-to-bottom terrific.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.