by Hugh Hunter

Now running at Allens Lane Theater, “Rapture, Blister, Burn” (2012) by Gina Gionfriddo is a social drama that doubles up as something of a humorous report card about the value of 1970s’ feminist thinkers. It centers on four women who question the relevance of such arguments when it comes to resolving personal turmoil.

The major character is Catherine , a glamorous 35-year-old who ducked out of marriage to Don, her graduate school lover, then wrote best-sellers about the role of pornography in pop culture and made a big splash on the Bill Maher show where she came to be known as the “the hot doomsday chick.”

Though successful, Catherine now finds herself alone and without children as she approaches middle age. Meanwhile, her best friend from college, Gwen, is unhappily married to Don. All three now regret youthful decisions that brought them to this pass. You may have guessed where this plot is headed.

Two other characters complete the female perspective: Avery, the 20-year-old ex-babysitter of Gwen and Don, and Alice, Catherine’s ailing mother. Young Avery is saucy and pert towards everybody and everything, while Alice has a cheerful, old-school disdain of feminism.

In the key scenes Catherine conducts an in-house seminar, dissecting writers as diverse as Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly. Much of the play’s bemused irony derives from the negligible power of literary theorists to resolve the personal conflicts we see emerging in this group.

At times, the back and forth between literary examination and romantic intrigue is unwieldy, but the dramatic interest in “Rapture” holds up. In part, that owes to the pacing of director Maurizio Giammarco and the ability of his cast to make the characters so endearing, you care about what happens to them.

Maia Baird makes you believe Catherine’s unhappiness has been brewing for a long time, and Baird matches up well with the more bright-eyed but equally desperate sadness of Kellie Cooper as Gwen. There is so much dysphoria in the air you always look forward to the upbeat presence of Michele Loor and Clarisse Minter as Alice and Avery.

One of the biggest ironies in “Rapture” is that cranky Phyllis Schlafly starts to look good. At heart, Schlafly (who died Sept. 5 at age 92) argues feminism is wrong because men are such imbeciles they need to be manipulated and managed. As this drama plays out, slacker-boozer-porn devotee Don (Jim Broyles) is exactly the kind of shiftless man to prove her point.

“Rapture” is one of a number of plays that take a critical look at feminism; “The Heidi Chronicles” (1988) by Wendy Wasserstein leaps to mind. Here, feminism looks bland and lacking in explanatory power. In “Rapture,” the characters muddle through on their own to get what they need, while Gionfriddo gives the ‘70s writers a grade of C-minus.

Allens Lane Theater is located at 601 W. Allens Lane, near McCallum. “Rapture, Blister, Burn” will run through Oct 9. Reservations available at 215-248-0546.

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