Can You Forgive Her?

Theater, Drama
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Helen Shaw 

Gina Gionfriddo’s new play is called Can You Forgive Her?, and after 95 punishing minutes, the obvious answer is no. We cannot forgive the playwright for a haphazard drama knocked together out of unbelievable situations. We cannot forgive the lame characters and thin dialogue. And since we're not in the forgiving vein today, we might turn a blameful eye on other folks involved in this production, too.

Gionfriddo's themes are money and love; the play shares its name with Anthony Trollope's 1865 novel about women mingling their financial and romantic decisions. This is a fine subject, and Gionfriddo uses up-to-the-minute issues for her characters' backstories: crippling student debt, the financial burdens on single mothers. But the requirements of naturalism—an attention to detail and an imagination that roams beyond the three walls of the set—are too much for her.

We spend the play stuck in a New Jersey living room, where characters wander boozily through conversations, trying to establish motivations for their behavior and bringing up social issues only to let them fall limply out of mind. Supposedly keen emotions are described as though they were happening a few towns away. The living room's owner, Graham (Darren Pettie), has proposed to bartender Tanya (Ella Dershowitz), but she won't accept till he promises to flip his newly dead mother's house. Faced with this harsh plan, Graham just laughs and shrugs and acquiesces. He then has what passes for a long night of the soul with a racist drunk from Tanya's bar, Miranda (Amber Tamblyn), whose transactional approach to sex rocks Graham's loosely held morality. Graham and Miranda blame their respective depressions on their mothers, who sound like far more interesting people than their self-involved kids. (Miranda is a foul creature who treats her sugar daddy, played with marvelous sweetness by Frank Wood, like a roach.)

Can You Forgive Her? is set on Halloween, and one can imagine a production that emphasized the play's gallery-of-monsters quality. Each character is a kind of hell demon: the shrieking cheerleader, the callous man-eater, the bad son, the worse boyfriend. But Peter DuBois's direction has no zip or style; it seems to consist mainly of asking performers to cheat out. (Pettie obliges by completely rotating his body to the audience, flat as a hieroglyphic.) Barely anything on stage seems right: Actors are miscast, props are handled like exhibits in a display. The play lingers briefly and sourly in the mind, waiting to be forgotten—if not, you know, that other thing.

Vineyard Theatre (Off Broadway). By Gina Gionfriddo. Directed by Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission. Through June 11.

Follow Helen Shaw on Twitter: @Helen_E_Shaw

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