Theater: “Rapture, Blister, Burn”

It’s one kind of challenge to find a career that ignites your passion. It’s another to find a person who does.

Rapture, Blister, Burn (at the Geffen Playhouse through September 22) portrays the lives of former grad school roommates whose lives have led in different directions — one is a superstar professional without husband or children, and one is a full-time mom with no apparent professional aspirations (and whose husband is the former boyfriend of the roommate). Add to the conversation a forward-thinking 21-year-old college student, and the martini-loving widowed mother of the superstar (who urges her daughter to steal back her friend’s husband) and the stage is set to deconstruct the last fifty years of feminism.

Amy Brenneman and Kellie Overbey in Rapture, Blister, Burn

Pitting sexy and famous author Catherine (Amy Brenneman) and grad school drop-out/homemaker Gwen (Kellie Overbey) at the center of the debate, Pulitzer-nominated playwright Gina Gionfriddo picks at the scab of “having it all.” She gives the old debate a fresh examination, and the audience receives a comic and pithy education in second wave feminism. This is no dry lecture (you’ll learn the connection between Slasher flicks and feminism, among other things), and college student Avery (Virginia Kull) spouts her generation’s provocative views about the old divides. (Avery’s wisdom on internet porn: “If you’re just looking at the free stuff, you’re not even an ‘official consumer.’”)

Amy Brenneman and Virginia Kull

For Gionfriddo, nothing is sacred, a good thing for her audience. The three generations of women together reconsider Phyllis Schlafly, who warned that feminism had nothing to offer women but “lonely cold apartments.” Schlafly may have had a point, allows Gionfriddo, but by the play’s close she suggests that that scenario may also be described as freedom.

Amy Brenneman and Virginia Kull in Rapture, Blister, Burn

Rapture, Blister, Burn is part of the ongoing dialogue about women, work and family that includes Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Sandberg urges American women to lean in to their careers, while extolling the joys of being a mother and having a husband as equal partner at home (acknowledging that an untold number of hired help make it possible). While Sandberg urges women to be more like her, and men to be more like her husband, and to thereby have it “all,” Rapture, Blister, Burn does not allow its women as many choices. It’s all or nothing.

Gionfriddo, who is both a mother and successful playwright, knows that real life is more complicated than the stark contest she paints in Catherine versus Gwen, career versus family. Many women (and men) balance career and family. And many aren’t single because they prioritized career over family, as the cautionary fable goes, but because they haven’t yet found The One. Gionfriddo does delve into this gray area by portraying Catherine’s and Gwen’s longing for the path not taken, letting them leap into their fantasies while we watch the fallout. The captivating play gives its audience many ideas to consider. Among them is one simple truth: as much as one can steer her professional choices, falling in love involves a good dose of magic. Or as my mother toasted at my wedding, “Here’s to dumb luck.”

‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’

Where: Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles

When: Through Sept. 21. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets: $39 to $79

Contact: geffenplayhouse.com or (310) 208-5454

(Photos by Michael Lamont)

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