The characters in “Rapture, Blister, Burn” spend most of their time talking about topics that American women have been grappling with for decades, including the difficulty of choosing between family and career—or the struggle to find time for both. Playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s comedy feels at times like a college class on feminism, but it’s a witty and lively one, more of a freewheeling gab session than a dry lecture.
Directed by Kimberly Senior in its Chicago premiere at Goodman Theatre with an engaging cast, the sharply written “Rapture, Blister, Burn” reunites two characters who had been college friends 20 years earlier and then diverged as they took different paths in life. Gwen (Karen Janes Woditsch) gave up drinking, got married and raised two sons, while Catherine (Jennifer Coombs) stayed single and wrote books on feminism, landing her a spot on TV talk shows as the “hot doomsday chick.” Neither is completely happy with the way things have turned out.
Catherine comes to town to care for her aging mother (charmingly played with deadpan humor by Mary Ann Thebus)—or is her goal actually to steal away Gwen’s pot-smoking, porn-addicted slacker hubby, Don (Mark L. Montgomery), who happens to be her former boyfriend? As these three get reacquainted, Gwen and Don’s 21-year-old babysitter, Avery (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason), offers a millennial perspective on sex and relationships. Unexpectedly, the brash Avery becomes the voice of reason, helping these middle-aged folks see what has gone wrong with their lives.
The play’s inevitable romantic triangle could use more of the passion and anguish suggested by the play’s title. Then again, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” isn’t really about the hot fever of love. It’s more about life choices. Gionfriddo’s script maneuvers the characters into some unlikely scenarios, creating situations where they can sit around talking about the choices women face in today’s society in a smart and fun way.