Review: Can You Forgive Her? Presents Timeless Themes For a 21st Century Audience
By Dan Bacalzo, Contributing Writer, May 29, 2017
Amber Tamblyn delivers a delightful and often wickedly funny performance in Gina Gionfriddo’s engaging play, Can You Forgive Her? making its New York premiere at the Vineyard Theatre. She plays Miranda, a woman who wants to live life to the fullest despite the crushing debt that causes her to earn money in questionable ways.
After an altercation in the bar where Tanya (Ella Dershowitz) works, Tanya’s fiancé, Graham (Darren Pettie), brings Miranda to his recently deceased mother’s home so that the situation can cool off. They strike up a conversation over a few drinks that is equal parts complaint, confession, and philosophy.
Graham has been putting off going through his mother’s papers—meaning all of the unpublished poetry, short stories, novels, memoirs, and journals of a frustrated and (according to Graham) untalented writer. He waxes on about the “examined life” versus the “anesthetized life,” and is at something of a crossroads. Graham and Miranda have an easy rapport, and their extended scene together seems rife with possibility.
Gionfriddo’s characters have a heightened quality that is both satirical and sincere. Not only do they say exactly what is on their minds with seemingly no filter, the other characters accept this in a way that you rarely find in real life. The cast, under Peter DuBois’ astute direction, take well to this style, resulting in dialogue exchanges that positively crackle.
Tamblyn has the juiciest lines, which sometimes border on cruelty. Miranda is casually racist, constantly referring to the character of Sateesh (Eshan Bay) as “the Indian.” She also mercilessly berates her sugar daddy, David (Frank Wood), although he seems to take it in stride with only mild flashes of annoyance.
Pettie has a low-key manner, tinged with melancholy. Graham seems to find it easier to let both Tanya and Miranda make decisions for him, even if he is occasionally able to assert what he wants. Dershowitz infuses Tanya with determination, and perhaps a hint of desperation. Wood has a no-nonsense demeanor that holds up even in situations when David probably should be more irate. Bay makes only a brief appearance as Sateesh, but makes a favorable impression.
Allen Moyer’s set design has a slightly retro look, with furnishings reminiscent of the 1970s or 80s. But it’s hardly a “dump,” which is how Tanya characterizes it—although, that may be just her way of trying to motivate Graham into renovating it into a rentable vacation property.
The play is set in a New Jersey beach town on Halloween night, which affects how costume designer Jessica Pabst has outfitted several characters. Tanya is dressed amusingly as a “serving wench,” while Miranda is going for a “sexy witch” look. Sateesh wears a mask similar to that of the Michael Myers character from Halloween, which causes both those onstage and in the audience to jump upon his initial appearance, peering through a darkened window.
Can You Forgive Her? takes its name from the similarly titled work by 19th century novelist Anthony Trollope, which explored issues of money, marriage, class, gender, and society. All those themes are also present in Gionfriddo’s play. However, this is not an adaptation. The playwright riffs on similar subject matter through sharply drawn 21st century characters. They’re exaggerated for comic effect, but are nevertheless familiar.
Can You Forgive Her? at Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, through June 11. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Written by Gina Gionfriddo. Directed by Peter DuBois; scenic design by Allen Moyer; costume design by Jessica Pabst; lighting design by Russell H. Champa; sound design by Daniel Kluger and Lee Kinney. Cast: Eshan Bay, Ella Dershowitz, Darren Pettie, Amber Tamblyn, and Frank Wood.
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Cover: (l. to r.) Darren Pettie, Ella Dershowitz and Amber Tamblyn in ‘Can You Forgive Her?;’ photo: Carol Rosegg.