Took my mom to see Rapture, Blister, Burn at The Goodman this weekend. It was the perfect play to see with one's feminist--yet of a different era-- parent. One thing that struck me before I even entered the theatre was how "womany" this play was. It was billed specifically as a piece by a woman. The promotional materials featured Rose the Riveter. There was even a little extra option at the bottom of the purchase order that explained The Goodman wants to keep making works by women, so would I consider an added donation? It pains me that this is necessary. It shouldn't be exotic to feature women playwrights, but at the same time, the extra push seems to be important. After all, this play was nominated for a Pulitzer, but I had never heard of it until it showed up on my Goodman emails. Look at Tonys last year, Oscars this year--women writers are invisible. It's been said before.
During the play there were times I thought, "No wonder people don't see plays 'for women.' A huge chunk of Act I was literally a feminism class. Sure, there were some quips and personal character views inserted in, but largely, we were all in a lecture class getting the history of women's rights. That said, the characters were interesting, relatable, lovable, intriguing. And at intermission, immediately my mom had a lot to say. Furthermore, the woman next to us chimed in. The three of us talked for the entire break about what was compelling about each view of feminism, the history, our experiences. I think that is the truest mark of an important and interesting play--the audience discusses it at intermission. The most interesting things to arise from our talk: the woman next to us was a dentist and explained all the guys she went to school with were serious dummies, my mom said if she could have stayed at home and just been a housewife, she would have--instead of having a very successful career in education, and I explained that when Catherine explained if people are equal in a relationship they can't both go first I didn't really find that true anymore because couple my age do a great job of compromising jobs, location, etc.
I was pleased by the major and surprising action that kicked off the second act. Things got GOING. For those who don't know, the play is about three graduate school friends meeting up after many years. One went on to have a lucrative career in writing, teaching, talk shows. The other two got married and didn't. The wedded woman didn't even finish her degree. Ron (wedded male) is in a rut romantically and career-wise. The huge HAPPENING was (SPOILER AHEAD) the two women decide to switch lives. They each are so "I wished I had had a family"/"I wish I had a career for myself." So they walk the talk. At first it's fun, but quickly, so quickly, I was very very delighted by the married characters' conclusion. It was not rosy, but they wanted to be together. They had ended up in life as they were because they didn't want challenges. So when Catherine comes in and says, "Here, Ron, I'll support you and help you write a book, Gwen, I'll set you up in my New York apartment, they just run home." Home. A whole other can of worms. Catherine comes home to be with her mother at the outset of the play. She preaches how you can't outsource a home, and yet she tries to by taking someone else's husband and child. In the end, we all want to be home meaning family but for many of us that involves have a certain stability of money meaning a good career too. Hence the whole reason we're still seeing plays about this difficult balance decades after women's rights allegedly happened.
The crux of the play to me was that people will be what they set out to be. Avery has my favorite monologue from the play. She tells about how she ice skated when she was a child and quit. When she sees the Olympics she says, "That could have been me." Not only do we look at the "greener" grass on the other side of the fence, we typically look at a magazine picture of the plot of land. Yes, if we had made different choices along the way, things would be different, but why on earth would we expect to be at the perfect end of different? I like how quickly Gwen and Ron are like, "Nah. We liked using our What Ifs as excused, but we're truly average." They chose to see themselves as losers and poor, when really they had enough money. It's not like Gwen couldn't have worked part-time retail. For goodness sake, they have enough money to get a custom birthday cake made for a toddler.
I do also want to note that at first glance, it seems Catherine was almost perfect. She was successful and tried to "have it all" with Ron, but Ron sucked and wanted to be average. But the next day over a Field's salad at The Walnut Room, my mom and I decided Catherine wasn't really much better than the other two. She didn't want to work for her life to improve either. She tried to gank a guy she dated a million years ago who she knew was lazy and a pothead. She didn't put herself out to the world to find a real true companion. She didn't attempt to find an equal partner who loved and cherished her. She went for a near warm body for comfort. It's really no better than Gwen realizing she has no interest in working for a Masters.
In the end, every one is okay. They have learned, and even if they are not totally happy, they can no longer use outside sources for their unhappiness. They know who they are--which is more than most of us can say and a thrilling resolution to a piece of literature.
My one itsy bitsy complaint is that Avery crumbled so quickly when her boyfriend, whom she was merely exclusively hooking up with, left. She painted herself as some warrior lover and fell back on whining to him on the phone when he strayed. My mom says it proves that women who say they don't care about relationships really do. We're all sensitive. I don't buy it. I think sometimes you do have fun relationships. I think sometimes you don't really care. I understand Avery is ONE twentysomething, but of course I couldn't help but feel she represented us all. And I don't think she did it rightly.
I felt I was corned into seeing the whole story as representative pieces by the text. I was forced to see representation by the constant discussion of theory very literally plotted over the play instead of things just happening and those in the audience who know theory making the connections or not. (Like most plays). But then I wondered...is it possible to be a woman these days and not have a strong understanding of that theory? Yes, of course, but not in middle class college-educated society. It's just not. Everything you do, there are the hanging skulls of Friedan or Butler above you, asking of you, "Are you doing it right?"