Friday, September 23, 2016

Spasms of Honesty

You know how they say a person knows within the first ten minutes of a date whether or not they're going to like the person?

Hello, "Rapture, Blister, Burn," the latest production by 5th Wall Theatre.

I probably knew in less than ten that this was a play I was going to relish based on an early lively interchange about how women's lives have changed since the '70s. It was terribly satisfying hearing so many references to feminist history and theory (Phyllis Schlafly, Betty Friedan), many of which got metaphoric amens from the mostly female audience tonight.

Oh, yes, bring it on. I have some thoughts on this matter.

Let's see, a play billed as "a witty, unflinching look at gender politics?" Yes, please.

Hmm, a play about a woman's so-called choices of sedate marriage and family or go-getter career woman with attendant swinging social and sexual life? Most definitely.

Because, the truth is, at some point probably everyone wonders about the life not lived.

In this instantly intriguing play, Cathy, a sexy scholar who's written books on pornography and horror film theory and Gwen, a stay-at-home Mom in a less-than-ideal marriage - the two roommates until one left for London and the other married her ex-boyfriend and settled down for a life of penniless domestic tranquility - reunite and decide to try out each other's life.

Because that's an option for most people. Not.

Never mind that this means that the four-year old gets packed off to live with pot-smoking Dad and his hot professor girlfriend while Mom takes the Broadway-loving older son to live in Manhattan so she can go back to school finally.

Plot issues aside, all the discussion of feminism, relationships - "Relationships are an exercise in illusion" - and how women's behavior is perceived is the stuff of dream women's studies classes or consciousness raising groups minus the hand mirrors.

If a woman chooses the career fast track, how much must she compromise to succeed? Is it wrong (or even possible) for family trackers to outsource the homemaking part? What about out-sourcing the child-raising part? Has online porn replaced desire for real sex in middle-aged men?

With a decidedly strong cast, the play covered three generations, making for expansive conversations about how each handled the restrictions (or lack thereof) placed on her at a particular juncture in time.

The millennnial, Avery (of course, because no millennial is ever named Linda or Donna or - gasp - Karen) played by a pitch-perfect Aiden Orr, can't conceive of why 60-something Alice couldn't have gone to a dance when she was young simply because she didn't have a date.

But what if you'd just gone, she presses? Well, that just wasn't done and that's the way it was, she's told and you can tell by Avery's reaction that such a notion is beyond her comprehension because she has no understanding of how differently the world was ordered before she was born.

How people would "talk" about women stepping out of tightly circumscribed roles. Why a woman would not do something she wanted very badly to for fear that it would sully her reputation. That there was a time when "hooking up" meant being called a slut.

In the pet peeves category, the play also touched on millennial Avery's uninformed take on the ongoing struggle. "Yea, I believe in those things but I don't self-identify as a feminist," she says, almost nonchalantly.

Even after years of young women telling me this, I still cringe every time I hear it.

Call me a product of the '70s, but everyone, and I do mean everyone, should self-identify as a feminist, if for no other reason than forward progress of the human race. End of discussion.

My fellow feminist and I used intermission to begin our own discussion group of the topics raised, so of course we stayed after the play ended for the talkback with cast, dramaturg and director.

It was only mildly depressing when a millennial woman asked how it's possible for two empowered people to give enough ground to make a relationship successful.

Tip #1: stop referring to yourself as empowered and decide if this is a person you're willing to occasionally compromise with or not because every successful relationship is going to require it.

Love and alcohol dupe you into thinking average people are great.

A big part of the beauty of "Rapture, Blister, Burn" is how winningly it points out that not everyone has to want a relationship, either.

For those who do, the life-experienced voice of Cathy sums it up best:  My middle-aged observation is that, in a relationship between two equals, you can't both go first.

My middle-aged observation? It's all about exercising that illusion...

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