Curtain Call: Playwright Gina Gionfriddo Talks ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’

Courtney Love inspires a play and Broadway needs a star

You may not recognize the name Gina Gionfriddo, but you’ve probably seen it on your television screen. She’s written more than a dozen episodes of Law & Order and one episode for this year’s Emmy-nominated Netflix show House of Cards. But it’s Rapture, Blister, Burn at The Geffen Playhouse that has audiences talking. Amy Brenneman stars as a successful writer and professor finds that her intellectual approach to feminism has perhaps left her without the one thing she really wants—a meaningful relationship. Returns to her hometown, she reconnects with her grad school paramour, who’s unhappily married but content in his mediocrity. Does either path offer salvation?

We spoke with Gionfriddo the day after the production opened in Westwood. Last year, when it premiered in New York, Rapture was compared to Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles. “Time and perspective have changed,” Gionfriddo says, “but the dilemma of whether you can have two high-achieving partners in one relationship is in both plays. It hasn’t been sorted out any better since ‘Heidi.’ 

Any play that examines the role of the sexes in relationships is bound to inspire debate, but the positive responses have surprised the playwright. “I thought women would respond and men would be polite,” she says. “My brother said it’s the only play of mine he responded to. A man who lived in my building liked it. I’m surprised by how many men do respond.”

The play’s title comes from the lyrics of “Use Once and Destroy,” a song penned by Courtney Love when she was in the band Hole. Gionfriddo, who describes herself as a fan of both Kurt Cobain and Love, says that music plays a huge role in her creative process. “An important way to generate ideas is to pound the pavement listening to my iPod. There are songs that lead to ideas and characters. This was a song I had known for many years, and the chorus kept popping up for me as having relevance to this story.”

On the day we spoke with Gionfriddo, Kevin Spacey, who executive produces and stars in House of Cards, gave a speech in Scotland lamenting the challenges of getting that series made. We couldn’t help but wonder if Gionfriddo experienced similar challenges getting plays produced on Broadway. Referencing her ill-fated attempt to get her previous play, Becky Shaw, produced, she says, “When we were trying to put Becky up, I don’t think Clybourne Park did as well as they had hoped. Producers really wanted a star. We were open to star-casting one role, but we weren’t able to. I wonder if stars want to feel they are going into a tried and true vehicle that has been proven stage worthy.”

Think about what that would have meant years ago when Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller or David Mamet were starting out. The perilous odds of actually getting work onto the stage haven’t stopped Gionfroddo from writing, and Los Angeles looks to be the beneficiary. “I’m working on a new play, a commission from Center Theatre Group, but that’s not finished yet,” she says. “That may be my next move.”