By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Peter DuBois
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
After presenting a season that included the engaging “This Day Forward” by Nicky Silver and the soaring “Kid Victory” by Greg Pierce and John Kander, the iconic Vineyard Theatre has chosen to present Gina Gionfriddo’s mostly disappointing “Can You Forgive Her.” Billed as a “ferociously funny story of lost souls grappling with emotional and financial dependence, and the costs of the American Dream,” the play fails to successfully grapple with either of these important themes or deal with any of the rich and enduring questions surrounding those themes.
Tanya (Ella Dershowitz) tends bar in a New Jersey beach town and is doing her best to get her perhaps fiancée Graham (Darren Pettie) – who is twice divorced and who has not worked in six months – to transition from not being serious about his future to “having a livelihood.” Graham’s mother has just died leaving him the beach house and all her papers (memoirs, novels, etc.) and he has asked Tanya to marry him. Tanya – not the best decision maker – is reluctant to marry without seeing progress in Graham’s stability and commitment to change.
So, what does she do on this Halloween night? She sends Graham home from the bar with an unknown woman who claims her “date” has threatened to stab her. Well, he never told her that. She “learns” of his motivation from a conversation the date Sateesh (Eshan Bay) has with the “redneck couple” she and Sateesh are sitting with at the bar. Miranda (Amber Tamblyn) has a Master’s Degree, is in serious debt, and depends on David (Frank Wood) to “keep” her and provide income. And she “lets [Sateesh] buy [her] things. Why not? It’s not like he isn’t using me, too, you know? He gets to look cool in front of all the other Indians by showing up with me.”
The bulk of Ms. Gionfriddo’s improbable play centers on conversations between Graham and Miranda – most of them convoluted and improbable and not terribly engaging. Then, of course, Tanya comes home from work early, David eventually shows up (Miranda comes to the shore to “stalk him”) and adds to the improbability index. For example, why would Tanya expect that leaving Graham alone with Miranda would be a good choice? And why would an educated person like Miranda be such a racist loser? Her problems are not about bad accounting and bad choices but overall about exhibiting bad behavior and embracing questionable values.
Perhaps Allen Moyer’s set design and Russell H. Champa’s lighting design are the most interesting parts of “Can You Forgive Her.” The playing area – the interior of the beach house – is intentionally “minimized.” The audience can see the lighting grid above the set and there is a “useless” lighted space below the set. Additionally, the set is framed with illuminated light towers. It is as though what is happening on stage is meant to be far removed from the audience. It is like a mockup of a set for a mockup of a play.
“Can You Forgive Her” seems unfinished, unresolved. There is a bit of a redemptive ending but that is not enough payoff for the relentless banter that precedes it. Tanya’s self-help guru does little to persuade Graham or Miranda to conform to her understanding of having a livelihood. The characters are less than believable and less than interesting. No one really cares whether Sateesh shows up to stab Miranda or not. He does show up. At the end. For about a minute.
There’s a lot to forgive here and it might start with the playwright. There is not much director Peter DuBois and the talented cast can do to fix what ails “Can You Forgive Her.”