A Feminist Rorschach Test

Hosted by

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA theater for KCRW.

Remember how inspiring seminar classes were? A great professor tackling low art with high theory: deconstructing slasher films or pornography? Remember that guy you were sleeping with? Great philosophical debates and even better sex! He ended up marrying your roommate, didn't he?

How different would life be if you two had stuck together?

That's half the setup for Gina Gionfriddo's new play at the Geffen Playhouse, Rapture, Blister, Burn.

The other half of the comedy's set-up is a sort of quick survey course of the last 100 years of feminist theory. As didactic and dry as that sounds, Ms. Gionfriddo pulls it off by showing as much as she tells and writing as witty as it is clever. Take the play's explanation of the male addiction to Internet porn: "once you start getting directions from Google, it seems like a huge hassle to unfold a map."

The play's inciting incident is a drunk-dialing episode. Catherine is a rock star academic. Think the sexy female guest on Bill Maher - "the hot doomsday chic." She's written books tracing Abu Ghraib to degradation porn (are you catching the porn leitmotif?). She's got a great career but no family, no partner. So after dousing her sorrows in vodka she calls her grad school roommate who just happened to steal, or marry, her boyfriend and create the domestic bliss she thinks she's longing for.

Playing the other side of the play's feminist dichotomy, we have Gwen. She's the roommate that dropped out of grad school and chose the family route. She's got two kids, a slacker of an academic husband, and she's just as dissatisfied. She longs, in theory, for a life filled with academic theory.

So we've got our two female archetypes - family versus career.

To round out the cast we've got the older generation played by Catherine's mother, symbolizing a simpler time when 'women simply didn't do that.' Representing youth, we've got Avery, the 20-something college student/babysitter who's down with porn and hookup culture while she makes her reality TV show. And of course, this being a feminist narrative, we have the vaguely disappointing, if sexually viable, male - embodied by Gwen's husband, Don.

But this isn't really a feminist drama - at least not in the stereotypical sense. Yes, this is that all too rare species in the American Theater: a play driven by a cast of women written by a woman. But it's really less manifesto and more an exploration of where we've gotten in 100 years.

Along with it's fantastic ensemble that's perfectly cast, the play's like a great seminar a sort of dramatized living lecture. Sure, it’s a bit formulaic and you can see some of the plot points coming but it gives you something to think about, to push against - a sort of feminist Rorschach test.

So grab some friends to argue with at intermission and don't blame the play if you drunk dial your college love - you were warned.

Rapture, Blister, Burn plays at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through September 22.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA theater for KCRW.

Running time: 2 hours and twenty minutes with an intermission

Banner image: Amy Brenneman and Kellie Overbey in Rapture, Blister, Burn. Photo: Michael Lamont