Gina Gionfriddo on Having It All, Pulitzer Prizes, and Rapture, Blister, Burn

Two-time Pulitzer Prize Finalist Gina Gionfriddo.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize Finalist Gina Gionfriddo.

Gina Gionfriddo is something of a playwriting dynamo. Her last two full-length plays, Becky Shaw and Rapture, Blister, Burn, were both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Her work goes far beyond the stage though; Gionfriddo wrote for Law and Order for several years, and more recently wrote an episode of the hit Netflix series House of Cards.

Theatre Artists Studio's production of Rapture, Blister, Burn opens this weekend. The play is a humorous glimpse at the friendship of two women -- one of whom chose to devote herself wholly to her career, while the other focused on having a family. We caught up with Gionfriddo to learn a little more.

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How did you get started in playwriting and screenwriting? I was a kid who did a lot of acting in high school. I came to college in New York wanting to pursue acting but I kind of changed my mind once I found out what professional theatre is like, so I got into playwriting from there. One of my plays had to do with a murder, which attracted the attention of some television producers, and that got me into writing Law and Order for a number of years.

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What inspired you to write Rapture, Blister, Burn? When I was younger I found that there were a number of arguments that I had with my mom about Men and Children and Career and all of that stuff. Then when my younger cousins got into their early twenties, I found myself having the same arguments with them - but more in the role that my mom had been in before. I was sort of interested in the way that different generations speak to each other, and how in some ways we grow up opposing our mothers' points of view and then in later years may find that we understand it a great bit more. Which can be kind of horrifying.

 

Debra Rich and Alexandra Uptadel in Rapture, Blister, Burn.
Debra Rich and Alexandra Uptadel in Rapture, Blister, Burn.
Mark Gluckman

One description we read of Rapture, Blister, Burn said "feminism takes a sharp look at itself in this hilarious new comedy." What is your impression of the state of modern feminism? In the play there is a young female character, she's in college, who feels that feminism is kind of something that we've moved beyond, that she isn't all that interested in. She sees it as a concern of an earlier generation. I very much was like that character in my college years. I went to a women's college but I really did not want to engage with the idea that women had any disadvantages - in the workplace or in life. I just didn't want to engage with any idea that a woman's life could be difficult.

I found myself reading the great feminist works, for the first time when I was about forty because I didn't do it when I was younger. I think that one of the things that was an impetus towards this play is that I see young women who feel that "feminism" is a dirty word, or something that we don't need anymore - "everything is okay now, we can vote and all that jazz!"

I think in some ways feminism needs to - I don't want to say rebrand itself - but I think that we don't have the passion of young, college-aged women, and we should! There are many, many battles left to fight.

The phrase "having it all" seems to come up frequently in conjunction with Rapture, Blister, Burn, referring to the struggle women (or people, really) may face between being successful in a career and raising a family. We've been talking about "having it all" for decades now, and the discussion is far from over. What's your opinion on this phrase and on this concept? Looking back I think one of the reasons I was uncomfortable with feminism as a college undergrad was because that phrase "having it all" was being tossed around a lot - "you can have it all, you can't have it all." I had a little voice inside me that was saying "I don't know that I believe that."

I had my daughter relatively late, I was almost 42 when she was born, so I did career first in a way. It was not necessarily by choice - it just worked out that way. I think you can have it all, but I'm not sure you can have it all at the same time. I wish that's the discussion we were more open about.

It's hard to raise children at the same time your career is going great. That's not to say that you can't do it, but it's difficult. I wish there was more discussion along those lines and I wish that we in this country did more to serve working mothers than we do.

What was your reaction to finding out you had become a Pulitzer finalist - not once, but twice! My understanding is that theatres nominate plays that they've produced, so as a writer you don't really hear anything at the nomination level. One day there's an announcement, and it's a winner and two finalists. It's always a total shock and a wonderful surprise, because it's not as though you were one of five or ten nominees. You really don't know until the moment it happens. It's very exciting.

Who should go see Rapture, Blister, Burn? I think the biggest surprise for me about this play was how much men liked it. I was worried that this was a play for women about women. But I have a brother who is two years younger, and he said, "this is the first one of your plays that I'm really into." That really surprised me.

I think it's kind of a play for everyone, but I think it's a play about women's lives that has enough in it to keep men engaged. There's a lot of discussion {in the play} about this particular moment in time in terms of the digital revolution and where men and women are finding themselves at this moment in history. I think it's a play with broad appeal.

Rapture, Blister, Burn will run from January 16 to February 1 at the Theatre Actor's Studio. General Admission tickets are $20 and are available through the Theatre Actor's Studio website.

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