“Rapture, Blister, Burn” at ACT

This talky play begins with a history of the feminist movement. “Ugh,” you say? Hold on, soon you’ll be delighting in incredibly witty and piercing dialog and an astute exploration of women’s lives over three generations. But, I assure you, you won’t leave with any clear understanding of what feminism has actually achieved.

Playwright Gina Gionfriddo is the new Wendy Wasserstein. Her play is funny; it’s smart; and it asks: how have so many women come so far and still wound up unsatisfied? How can men and women negotiate the inequality issue? Perhaps, as she observes, “In a relationship between two equals, you can’t both go first.”

Director Anita Montgomery has paced this Pulitzer nominated exploration in spritely fashion. The gloriously sexy and smart Kirsten Potter plays Catherine, a highly regarded feminist scholar and favorite talk show guest who has come home to care for her ill mother (Priscilla Lauris). She reconnects with Gwen (Kathryn Van Meter) her graduate school buddy and Gwen’s husband Don (Jeffrey Fracé), who was Catherine’s main squeeze until she left for a career-building year in Europe at least 15 years ago.

Catherine teaches a summer seminar on feminism but winds up with just two students: her friend Gwen who gave up grad school for home and hearth and a free thinking 21-year-old new wave woman named Avery (played with superb contemporary flair by Mariel Neto). Oh what different ideas these three women have about what makes a satisfying life. Add to that mix Catherine’s mother who plies them with martinis and offers the wisdom of the proto-feminist woman.

While Avery plans to grab the brass ring on life’s merry-go-round, Catherine and Gwen question their choices. Catherine wound up with academic success but a painfully empty personal life. Gwen never tried for more than two kids and a husband, but she too feels unfulfilled. Catherine and Gwen can’t help but wonder about the life not lived, so they manage to change places. And you won’t be surprised to learn that it just isn’t as great as they expected.

So what’s the answer for women? According to Gionfriddo, Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan may still be even contenders in their assessments of women’s lives.

Through Aug. 11 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle; (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre. org)

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