Los Angeles Theater Review: RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN (Geffen Playhouse)

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by Tom Chaits on August 22, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER…OR IS IT?

Smart, funny and thought-provoking, Rapture, Blister Burn has arrived at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood with the original New York cast in tow. Written by Gina Gionfriddo (Pulitzer Prize finalist for Becky Shaw) the show puts a new spin on the often beaten to death themes of gender roles, feminism, happiness and having it all.

Catherine Croll (Amy Brenneman) is a successful author, respected scholar and television pundit who returns home to care for her ailing mother (Beth Dixon). At first glance it would appear she has it all; fame, fortune and a future filled with promise. Entering middle age and forced to deal with her mother’s mortality as well as her own she begins to question her life choices which have left her single, lonely Tom Chaits’ Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of in RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN at Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.and childless. Years ago she was involved with Don Harper (Lee Tergesen), the love of her life but when her career began to blossom and she was transferred to London, Don refused to follow. When she returned to the states Don had taken up with her best friend Gwen (Kellie Overbey). The pair married and lived what at first glance was the idyllic suburban dream complete with kids and the white picket fence but behind that Norman Rockwell façade regret and uncertainty lurk. Catherine’s return causes Gwen to reexamine her life choices as well. Did she take the right turns in life? Should she have more actively pursued her career?  Is she in a dead end marriage to a man who has lost his ambition and accepted his lot as a college administrator who happens to have a healthy appetite for internet porn?

As Act I unfolds, Catherine accepts a summer teaching position offered by Don. When only two students enroll in the class, she decides to teach the course at her mother’s house. The students turn out to be Gwen and Avery Willard (Virginia Kull) a med school dropout and the Harper’s babysitter. A spirited multi-generational consciousness-raising discussion ensues over martinis. While this section gets a bit Tom Chaits’ Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of in RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN at Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.bogged down with the academic differences between the unabashedly anti-women’s libber Phyllis Schlafly and the staunch and vocal feminist Betty Friedan, the insight, personal revelations and confessions of the group shed new light on what could have easily become more of the same-ole same-ole. There is no clear universal truth and Ms. Gionfriddo skillfully plays to the strengths and weaknesses of both positions. Allegiances to both sides will be forged, dismissed and then reconsidered as the conversation progresses throughout the show. The discourse is reminiscent of the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye, after listening to both sides of an argument, says to the first person, “You are right” and then turns to the other combatant and says, “You are also right.”

As the act comes to a close, the plot evolves with a twist worthy of a television reality show and Catherine and Gwen are given the chance to walk a mile in the other’s shoes. Act II opens and we are full swing into the life swap and it is rapidly becoming obvious the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. It is Tom Chaits’ Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of in RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN at Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.at this point that Ms. Gionfriddo’s script expands from the “can a woman have it all” dilemma to a much broader scope encompassing the very nature of happiness and desire and our ability to accept ourselves for who we are. Life is not easy for anyone, there is no concrete format for the way you should live your life and if you aren’t careful you can bury yourself under the weight of regret and the “shoulda-woulda-couldas.”  True happiness can only be achieved when you can look in the mirror and really see the reflection of your being and see yourself for who you are blemishes and all. Nothing and no one is perfect.

Under the direction of Peter DuBois, the cast brings Ms. Gionfriddo’s involving, humorous and evocative script to life with indisputable aplomb. All of the performers excel in their portrayals and with the aid of the fine script and insightful direction they have drawn realistic characters each with their own distinct identity. Tom Chaits’ Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of in RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN at Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.Ms. Dixon as the elder stateswoman is particularly adept at milking every bit of humor from her part. She never wastes a single word and can elicit a belly laugh from the audience with a simple glance. On the other side of the age spectrum, Ms. Kull bubbles with certainty even as her youthful enthusiasm and optimism are tested by life. Ms. Brenneman and Ms. Overbey are so truthful in their interpretations that one cannot help but identify and empathize with their circumstances. As the sole male member of the cast, Mr. Tergesen brings his man/boy persona full circle to a satisfying conclusion.

Tom Chaits’ Stage and Cinema Los Angeles review of in RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN at Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.The lighting (Jeff Croiter and Jake DeGroot), sound (M.L. Dogg) and costumes (Mimi O’Donnell) are all excellent. The set design by Alexander Dodge sets the tone perfectly and the mechanically controlled scene changes are smooth, fast and fun to watch.

If you could live whatever life you wanted what would it be and do you really think that would be the key to eternal bliss? Spend a fulfilling two hours taking in Rapture. Blister, Burn and you’ll quickly realize you are not alone in your quest for insight into questions that do not have easy or for that fact definitive answers. Maybe, just maybe, the grass is really greener in your own backyard.

photos by Chris Ocken

Rapture, Blister, Burn
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood
scheduled to end on September 22, 2013
for tickets, call 310-208-5454 or visit http://geffenplayhouse.com/

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