Rapture, Blister, Burn, whose Playwrights Horizons production in New York last summer received rave reviews, is coming to Boston
Virginia Kull, Beth Dixon, and Amy Brenneman from the New York cast. middle: Brenneman and Kellie Overbey.
Peter DuBois helms the Huntington Theatre Company production
The Huntington Theatre Company offers a comedic dessert to end its 31st season?, only it’s kind of a tart one. Rapture, Blister, Burn, by Gina Gionfriddo, takes a fiery look at modernday feminism over afternoon martinis. After grad school, the two protagonists, Catherine and Gwen, pursued different paths: Catherine Croll is a 40-something author and television pundit who has always operated on career overdrive, while her friend Gwen took the mommy path in raising two children. Each covets the other’s life as they both spiral into midlife what-could-have-been fantasies. Their story is framed by those of Avery, a 21-year-old former pre-med student, and Catherine’s 70-something mother, who have their own takes on feminism.
The production is helmed by Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois, a longtime friend and collaborator of Gionfriddo, who earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for their last effort, the acerbic comedy Becky Shaw. After receiving rapturous reviews in New York last summer, Rapture, Blister, Burn plays at the South End/Calderwood Pavilion through June 22. Here DuBois and Gionfriddo talk about friendship, dark humor, and changing expectations.
After Becky Shaw, what brought the two of you back together? Peter DuBois: We started thinking about this play right around when we were in London with Becky Shaw. Gina Gionfriddo: Peter did a couple of productions at Second Stage Theatre [in New York], where Becky premiered, and I started feeling a little jealous that I wasn’t in the room with him. [Laughs] And I had to get to writing something. I think that kicked me out of my procrastination.
What is it about your chemistry that makes you work well together?
GG: It’s the same thing that actors talk about with Peter—that it’s a very safe room to be in. I can go dark, I can fall on my face, I can go wherever I want to go and feel like it’s going to be okay. PD: I love being in the room with Gina, watching the work happen. There’s an incredible amount of trust and ease. What’s great is, sometimes watching the sausage get made can be pretty intense, because maybe a scene has to go in the wrong direction before it goes in the right direction. Gina is really great about watching that process and having a sense of humor about it.
Do you share the same sense of humor? GG: We both have a dark, gallows sense of humor, and we can also go blue. PD: We share a fascination with the darker motivations of human behavior. We were together when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke; basically I was staying at Gina’s, and we spent 24 hours glued to the TV.
How do you relate to the 40-something and 20-something characters in the play? PD: I relate to the character of Avery. She’s very bold in how she strikes out into the world. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, so you worry about her a little bit. She’s leaping out into the world, and I definitely relate to that. When I look back to some of the things I was doing in my 20s, I sometimes shudder. [Laughs] GG: It’s funny. Avery is like people I’ve known, but in my 20s I was far less confident and much more worried than most of the 20-year-olds around me. I guess it’s all turned out better than I thought it would. [Laughs] I think Avery is going to be disappointed. I wasn’t.
Gina, you became a mother while this work germinated. Did that influence your point of view? GG: I wrote the play in the space of “I’m hoping to be a mother, but I’m not totally sure that it’s going to work out.” That’s one of the reasons I didn’t make the desire for motherhood the central focus of the play—because I didn’t know how the journey was going to turn out. I wanted Catherine to be someone who has regrets and doubts, but not that specific one.
Rapture, Blister, Burn runs May 24 through June 22 at the South End/Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., 617-266- 0800; huntingtontheatre.org