Wilma audiences swooned over Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw in the 2009/10 Season. The 2014/15 season opens with Rapture, Blister, Burn, Gionfriddo’s newest play (and, like Becky Shaw, a Pulitzer finalist). The play follows Catherine, a celebrity academic, who returns to her hometown after her mother’s heart attack, and reunites with her best friends from graduate school, who are now married. Gina Gionfriddo talks with Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback about the play.
Walter Bilderback You've said that Rapture, Blister, Burn isn't the play you set out to write. Could you tell our audience a little about that?
Gina Gionfriddo I actually set out to write a play about the impact of Internet pornography on the American psyche. I had a pre-Internet childhood. When we became curious about sex, we had to work so hard for every little scrap of information. Now it’s just, as one of my characters says, point-and-click to see full penetration online. So I went chasing after some wisdom about how this colossal change in access to porn has impacted us. I read a lot of great books like The Porning of America, but I wasn’t able, finally, to translate a sociological inquiry into a living, breathing drama. But when you read about the history of porn, you inevitably read about feminism because pornography as an issue really split the movement in the eighties. Now, I had attended a women’s college, but never taken a Women’s Studies course. (I was a bit like Avery, the young girl in my play, and felt it was all antiquated and not relevant to me.) So I found myself reading these feminist texts for the first time at forty. That led me to start thinking about different generations of women in conversation about their lives.
“Entire generations falsify themselves to themselves; that is to say, they wrap themselves up in artistic styles, in doctrines, in political movements, which are insincere and which fill the lack of genuine conviction.” José Ortega y Gasset (1883 - 1955), quoted in W. H. Auden, A Certain Time, under the heading “Commitment.”
From its premiere, The Real Thing has challenged Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead for the title of “Tom Stoppard’s most popular play.” Although Night and Day had ventured into similar territory, The Real Thing was more recognizably “realistic” in both setting and character psychology. Affairs of the heart take precedence over intellectual brio and sparkling wordplay. In an interview with critic Mel Gussow, Tom Stoppard suggests that the initial inspiration for writing The Real Thing was the Ortega y Gasset quote prefacing this note. Much has been written about the ways in which The Real Thing differs from other works by Stoppard (and more will be coming shortly), but this origin story points to something that makes this a very “Stoppardian” play. What is “the real real thing”? How do you know it? How do you prove it?
Desert Island Discs is a British radio program started in 1942 that continues to the present. A well-known person is asked the question: “if you were to be cast away alone on a desert island, which eight gramophone records would you choose to have with you? Assuming of course, that you had a gramophone and an inexhaustible supply of needles.” In addition to eight pieces of music, the “castaways” were allowed to choose one book and one luxury item of their choice, as long as the “luxury” could not help them escape the island.
Famous “castaways” have included Noel Coward, John Cleese, James Cameron, Colin Firth, Margaret Thatcher, and all Prime Ministers and potential Prime Ministers. John Cleese got special dispensation to have Michael Palin as his “luxury,” as long as Palin was stuffed.
Tom Stoppard appeared on Desert Island Discs on January 12, 1985, near the end of the The Real Thing’s original West End run. His choices:
Bessie Smith, “Careless Love”
Avon Cities Jazz Band (from Bristol, England), “Jump For Joyce”
The Beatles, “Love Me Do”
William Balkein, “Graceful Ghost” (a ragtime tune used in
Sondheim and Bernstein, “America” (from West Side Story)
André Previn, score for Every Good Boy Deserves Favor
Vaughn Williams, “Fantasia on a Theme” by Thomas Tallis (which
Stoppard called “the most English sound one could possibly have”)
Keith Jarrett, Cologne Concert
Biographer Ira Nadel writes that Stoppard “chose a book in two languages, with a dual translation from English into Italian, ‘something like Dante’s Inferno,’” and his luxury was a “small plastic football for him to kick repeatedly without it hitting the ground, a practice he has often followed when he has the ‘delusion that a change of activity and scene would unblock me’ when writing.”
The exhibit From War to Home is the culmination of a year-long participatory research project conducted by Gala True, PhD, in partnership with 29 Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using photographs and words, these Veterans shared their experiences of military service, deployment, and homecoming.
Something else made this war different for Americans: women in combat. This became clear within days of the invasion of Iraq, on March 23, 2003, when a unit of the 507th Maintenance Company made a wrong turn near Nasiriyeh and was ambushed. Americans became familiar with Jessica Lynch, who was wounded and captured in the ambush. Less media attention was paid to Shoshana Johnson, Lynch’s Panamanian-born comrade who was also captured (and later released), or to Lori Piestewa, a Hopi soldier who tried to drive her Humvee (in which Lynch was a passenger) to safety and became the first female service member killed in Iraq.
Between 2001 and 2013, 300,000 female service members were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: 11% of US forces. More than 130 women have died in the two conflicts and more than 800 have been wounded. Two have received the Silver Star, the third-highest medal for valor. As the website of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America explains, “Although excluded from official ‘combat roles,’ there is no clear front line in the current conflicts. Many female troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to direct fire while serving in support roles...Even those who don’t travel outside the security perimeter of a military base are constantly threatened by mortars and rockets. As one female veteran put it, ‘Life in Iraq and Afghanistan is combat.’” Compounding this is a perception on the part of many civilians that women “don’t serve.” Stories from female veterans of being ignored or assumed to be a girlfriend, sometimes while male soldiers who haven’t deployed are being bought drinks for their “service,” are common.