Theater review: ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’

Martinis help the sleek dialogue flow in "Rapture, Blister, Burn," which runs through June 24 at Playwrights Horizons.

Phyllis Schlafly: It’s a name to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting feminist, belonging to the woman who defeated the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Yet Schlafly is mentioned, with plenty of censure but a surprising amount of approbation, no less than 20 times in Gina Gionfriddo’s “Rapture, Blister, Burn” at Playwrights Horizons. Firmly focused on the women’s issue of family versus career, “Rapture” could easily be labeled a feminist play. But why limit a work so specific and so wonderfully expansive?

Catherine (Amy Brenneman) — a highly successful, mediagenic academic — returns home after her mother (Beth Dixon) suffers a heart attack. She reconnects with her old college friends, Don (Lee Tergesen) and his wife Gwen (Kellie Overbey) — Don being a former boyfriend that Gwen stole away. Catherine has an affair with Don, followed by an experimental life-swap with Gwen. Avery (Virginia Kull), Don and Gwen’s babysitter, contributes pithy commentary and advice.

Gionfriddo’s exquisite dialogue flows like a river. Every line is true to character and sounds natural, yet rides on an undercurrent of humor and insight. Every character is entrenched in his or her own unique situation, replete with insecurities, contradictions and self-deceptions. The family/career motif is always present, but never oppressive. And the recurring references to Schlafly become more and more comforting than confrontational.

With its sparkling script, excellent cast, fluid direction and a marvelous set, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” is far more rapture than blister or burn.

“Rapture, Blister, Burn”
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater
416 West 42nd Street
$70, single tickets
www.playwrightshorizons.org


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