The road not traveled can invite some longing looks. Especially when the looker is a 40-something woman who wonders if she made the right choices about marriage and career.
Playwright Gina Gionfriddo wades into the murky waters that many women have trod through with her Pulitzer Prize-nominated 2014 play "Rapture, Blister, Burn." It opens Thursday at Springs Ensemble Theatre.
"I'm excited how specifically this points to midlife questions women get to," said director Joye Cook-Levy. "I'm living inside that question myself, which is did I do my career or did I do my family? Did I need to choose? Was it OK to do both? Is one lacking because I did the other?"
After leaving her boyfriend (Matt Radcliffe) and hometown decades ago for a fellowship in London, Catherine (Holly Haverkorn), a successful academic, returns home to help her ailing mother and teach a summer seminar in women's studies. She reunites with her best friend Gwen (Kara Carroll), who left her graduate program when she was younger to marry Catherine's old boyfriend and have two kids. Each is envious of the other and the world she missed out on - Catherine is beginning to regret not having a family, Gwen dreams of a high-stakes career - and concoct a plan to switch places.
"What's exciting about her writing here is the multiplicity of the ideas it engages. Heady with sharp-witted dialogue about the particularities of women's experience (there's a joke about pornography and Google maps - believe it or not - that's worth the ticket price alone), 'Rapture' more largely illuminates how hard it can be to forge both a satisfying career and a fulfilling personal life in an era that seems to demand superhuman achievement from everyone," wrote The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood in 2012.
Two other female characters round out the quartet of viewpoints that represent three generations: Catherine's mother Alice (Karen Anderson) who holds an old-fashioned view of marriage - "No worthwhile man wants to depend on a woman. I'm sorry; that is what I think." - and Avery (Hailey King), Gwen's 21-year-old babysitter who thinks all options are suspect. "You either have a career and wind up lonely and sad, or you have a family and wind up lonely and sad?"
The play is for every person, male or female, who has come to a critical juncture and wondered what's next.
"This play is about the clutches of identity in your 40s, which is for men and women a real point," said Cook-Levy. "It's a liminal space of who am I right now and who do I want to be next and how much time do I have left to reinvent myself, if that's what I decide to do."
For those who like their endings all tied up with a pretty bow, this won't be that. But one particular character does leave the director with a sense of hope.
"Maybe in your 60s you figure it out," she said. "Maybe that's the grace of age - you're gaining answers and wisdom. You become yourself in a way that you don't have time to when you're working and raising kids and taking care of parents."
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM