By Gina Gionfriddo; Directed by Peter DuBois
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.11.17
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
by Sarah Moore on 5.23.17
Frank Wood and Amber Tamblyn in Can You Forgive Her? Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Gina Gionfriddo's great new dark comedy is a topical meditation on the meaning of life, independence, and the American Dream.
It’s Halloween at the Jersey shore, and Miranda’s date wants to kill her. (Not to mention, the knives they bought at the outlet mall are in his car.) Played by Amber Tamblyn in her New York stage debut, Miranda is twenty-eight, highly educated, and has a ton of debt, and she’s hiding out with Graham (Darren Pettie) until it’s safe to go back to the bar. Specifically, in Graham’s mom’s shore house that he just inherited, because his mom just died, and that’s what all the boxes are. His mom’s stuff.
Can You Forgive Her? is a sharp dissection of the American dream, and digging into what that means, in the guise of a dark comedy. Playwright Gina Gionfriddo manages to unravel each of the four main characters and show us how and why they ended up the way they are, all in only 95 minutes. The dialogue is witty and well crafted, and each member of the ensemble brings their own strengths to round out the characters.
The play focuses on Miranda, and how she ended up in her current situation. What did she do to get to where she is, and what mistakes did she make? Can You Forgive Her? shares a lot with Gionfriddo’s past work, specifically Becky Shaw and Rapture, Blister, Burn. She presents the choices that Miranda's made without judgment, leaving the audience to decide for themselves whether she’s screwed up her life, or whether her actions are valid.
Part of the challenge in making this play work is casting the right actress to play Miranda, and Amber Tamblyn gives an excellent, fiery lead performance. It’s tricky to balance the questionable choices and the bad decisions she’s made on this night alone, and then to make her likeable enough that the audience will want to spend the evening with her. Tamblyn gives a truly great performance, gracefully steering the play and its ensemble.
Graham has been a bit stuck since the death of his mom, and is in a near midlife crisis, but luckily he has Tanya (Ella Dershowitz) to guide him. Darren Pettie shows depth and struggle in his performance as Graham, and he is well matched by Dershowitz’s relentlessly good Tanya, a single mom obsessed with a self-help book and giving her daughter a good life. Tanya requires Graham to follow a number of steps before she’s going to let him into her family's life. Her obsession with wanting to know everyone’s “livelihood” underscores the theme of purpose tied to finance throughout the play.
The always-excellent Frank Wood plays David, Miranda’s “sugar daddy.” We are told that he’s very rich, an emotional cipher whose family hates him, but Frank Wood’s presence makes it easy to feel bad for him, and to be on his side. Several of his deadpan line deliveries are highlights of the play. Miranda’s date, Sateesh, is nicely played by Eshan Bay, though he only makes a brief appearance. The gorgeously crafted set by Allen Moyer replicates a lived-in, outdated shore house, and the spot-on costumes are by Jessica Pabst.
This complicated web of characters keeps the drama high at an almost farcical pace (the smooth direction is by Peter DuBois), but underneath the antics of Halloween night is a deeper meditation on money, class, and the choices we make. Gionfriddo’s newest play is certainly worthy of attention, as is Tamblyn's captivating performance.
(Can You Forgive Her? plays at the Vineyard Theater, 108 East 15th Street, through June 11, 2017. The running time is one hour and 35 minutes, with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 3 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $79 and are available at vineyardtheatre.org or by calling 212-353-0303.)
Can You Forgive Her? is by Gina Gionfriddo. Directed by Peter DuBois. Set Design is by Allen Moyer. Lighting Design is by Russell H. Champa. Costume Design is by Jessica Pabst. Sound Design is by Daniel Kluger and Lee Kinney. Assistant Director is Amy Taylor Rosenblum. Production Stage Manager is Terri K. Kohler.
The cast is Eshan Bay, Ella Dershowitz, Darren Pettie, Amber Tamblyn, and Frank Wood.