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The Grass is Still Always Greener

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By Mary Daily

Published Sep 13, 2013 8:00 AM


Rapture, Blister, Burn, at the Geffen Playhouse, poses old questions for which we’ve never really found the answers.

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Amy Brenneman and Kellie Overbey in Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn at the Geffen Playhouse.
Photo by: Michael Lamont

We always want what we don’t have and we always wonder who we’d be if we had chosen something else. That sentiment is the overriding theme in Rapture, Blister, Burn, a smart, funny play onstage at the Geffen Playhouse through September 22. The Westwood production reassembles the brilliant cast of the play’s off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizon. The writer is Gina Gionfriddo, who was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in drama for her last play, Becky Shaw.

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Virginia Kull and Amy Brenneman.
Photo by: Michael Lamont

Rapture, Blister, Burn brings together four women—Avery, 21; Catherine and Gwen, middle-aged; and Alice, in her senior years. Throughout the performance, the women—especially Avery, Cathy and Gwen—weigh the pros and cons of marriage and family vs. career. It seems like an old song, a debate we hoped we had put to rest decades ago. And yet the play starkly reminds us that 21st-century women still face the same challenge and the same reality: You can’t have it all.

Amy Brenneman (of TV’s Judging Amy and Private Practice) is perfectly cast as Catherine, a renowned professor and author who finds herself unfulfilled at middle-age, lusting after an old boyfriend and longing for a husband and kids. She confronts her unhappiness when she sees her former heartthrob Don (played by Lee Tergesen), his wife Gwen (Kellie Overbey) and their children. It’s easy for Catherine to imagine that their life is all she lacks. Yet we soon learn that Gwen feels stuck in a stagnant marriage and trapped by the demands of motherhood. She wants to finish the college degree she abandoned long ago and start a career. To her, Catherine’s life looks close to ideal. Meanwhile, Don, a dean at a mediocre college, has lost any ambition he might ever have had, now spending his time with porn and pot. Gwen has taken on the management of his day-to-day affairs. “I am his to-do list,” she says.

The best lines of the play belong to young Avery (played perfectly by Virginia Kull) who is observing the lives of the others and musing about what she wants for her own future. “You either have a career and wind up lonely and sad, or you have a family and wind up lonely and sad?” she asks. Is that all there is?

No easy answers here, but Rapture, Blister, Burn makes it fun to ponder the questions all over again.

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