Menu

Essay

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 subject that immediately elicited Gina's ambivalence as the starting place for Rapture, Blister, Burn was Internet porn. That led to a broader consideration of sexuality, which, in turn, turned Gina's gaze to feminism. One can see why Gina cites The Heidi Chronicles as an influence in her piece. And Adam Greenfield, I believe, is also right when he says in his piece that he cannot think of a play since Heidi with as broad a perspective on the status of the women's movement. Tellingly, both plays have a female professor as a protagonist. Heidi is an Art History professor. Catherine in Gina's play is a Women's Studies professor. And both plays evince an aching disillusionment that the seismic shifts of the

Women's movement have not brought the women in them contentment or clarity. But there are also huge differences between the plays. Heidi came of age during the turbulent '60s and '70s. Traditional expectations about a woman's role as mother and wife were still part of her conditioning. And Wendy Wasserstein dramatized this elemental ambivalence through Heidi's choice to become a single mother, a choice that stirred up plenty of controversy a good eight years before Dan Quayle excoriated Murphy Brown for making the same choice. Gina's characters have come of age in the post-feminist Reagan era. For many, feminist principles have become common wisdom. But a polarizing backlash has also kicked in. So the internalized ambivalence about career and motherhood that Wendy dramatized becomes externalized in Gina's play. Catherine has chosen her academic career over family. Gwen, her friend from graduate school days, has abandoned an academic career for family. But now in their forties, both women are experiencing a certain ideological "buyer's remorse." Adding potboiling fuel to the fire, Gwen's husband Don used to be Catherine's boyfriend and he too is experiencing regrets. Twenty-five years after Wendy's play, the waters a true-blue feminist would swim through are murkier than ever. And the dramatic choices the characters make thrashing about in this muck are appallingly, deliciously reckless.

When I first saw the title Rapture, Blister, Burn, I thought of Icarus. Now, of course, his wings of wax melted before his ecstatic longing could blister and combust. But I thought of it very much in terms of dashed ideals. Reading Gina's piece has made me think also about the implicit longing for sexual transfiguration in the title. Where is the rapture in this play? Is it in the mind? Is it in the body? Or is it an illusion of memory? And where is the burn? Is it in the extinction of rapture? Or is it in the scar, the mark that the burn leaves on us? In Gina's heady, hilarious, painful new play, these questions are bound to linger.

--Tim Sanford, Artistic Director