By the end of “Can You Forgive Her?”, it’s not clear which of the five characters in Gina Gionfriddo’s latest comedy is the “You” of the title, and who is the “Her.” All the characters in one way or another are grappling with debts either financial or emotional, or both.
There is Graham (Darren Pettie) whose mother died six months ago, and left him box after box of papers that represent decades of her writing. All of it is about her abandonment by Graham’s father; none of it is published or publishable. The boxes are stacked up untouched in the run-down New Jersey beach house that Graham has now inherited. His new, younger girlfriend, Tanya (Ella Dershowitz), sees his inability to go through his mother’s papers as a sign that he may be just another one of her bad choices, which left her a single mother in debt.
“My aunt just like… She nailed it. She said I keep choosing the road less traveled and that
road is less traveled for a reason. It’s a total dead end.”
“That’s not what Robert Frost meant,” Graham says calmly.
“F… Robert Frost,” Tanya replies. A self-help book changed her life, and he owes it to her and to himself to change his life too, she says, if he wants the relationship to continue – and he does; he just proposed to her.
And then there is Miranda (Amber Tamblyn), who has her own mother issues – her mother had a fling with a British professor who abandoned her before Miranda was even born — and Miranda has lived her whole life beyond her means, with her mother’s approval, going into huge debt to pay for expensive schooling. In apparent desperation, she has hooked up with a sugar daddy, David (Frank Wood), who has trouble expressing emotion and whom she regularly berates.
“I believe in love,” Miranda tells Graham. “I believe in it like I believe in ghosts, you know? I’ve personally never encountered it, but I believe it’s out there.”
Miranda’s relationship with David is more complex than we first realize, but she has gotten into trouble dating Sateesh (Eshan Bay) whom she just calls “the Indian” and who she believes is coming to kill her.
The playwright contrives to place all her characters together in Graham’s beach house on Halloween night, through some plot developments that couldn’t really withstand a test of plausibility. But you can forgive her – or at least I can – because of all that’s worthwhile in “Can You Forgive Her?” Gionfriddo has a terrific ear for dialogue, and an eye for comic touches — Tanya is wearing a serving wench costume, which makes her righteous lecturing feel slightly ludicrous; Miranda is dressed like a sexy witch. I won’t spoil the surprise of Sateesh. I found much of the script quite funny, but it took a while for the audience during the performance I saw to begin to laugh at any of it. I’m not sure why this is so; maybe a different director would have had the actors play up the laughs. (The actress portraying Tanya, for example, did not do the full-out ditzy blonde routine, which is in some ways refreshing.) But perhaps the audience sensed in this work by Gionfriddo, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for “Becky Shaw” and “Rapture, Blister, Burn”) something serious on offer. Underneath the farcical proceedings that surround the quirky characters, the play allows us to glimpse ourselves in the characters’ differing perspectives on — and ambivalence toward — their obligations….to their parents, to themselves, to money, to love.
Can You Forgive Her?
Written by Gina Gionfriddo. Directed by Peter DuBois. Set design by
Allen Moyer, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by
Russell H. Champa, sound design by Daniel Kluger
Cast:Amber Tamblyn as Miranda; Frank Wood as David; Ella Dershowitz as Tanya; Darren Pettie as Graham; Eshan Bay as Sateesh
Running time: 110 minutes with no intermission.
Can You Forgive Her? runs through June 11, 2017.