by Carol Rocamora
It’s Halloween night, but the characters in Can You Forgive Her?, Gina Gionfriddo’s devilish screwball comedy, don’t need costumes. Dressed as themselves, they’re among the most colorful, quirky characters you’ll see on the stage this season, and they’re all struggling with the same issue – survival.
Graham (the soulful Darren Pettie) is hosting an impromptu gathering of these wacky, wayward souls at his mother’s summerhouse. Mom died six months ago, and he’s been trapped in the sitting room ever since, staring at dozens of cartons containing her memoirs. They are his inheritance. Should he respect her memory, open, and read them? Which boxes should he tackle first – the literary memoirs or the humorous memoirs? Or should he throw them out? (She’s a terrible writer, according to her son.) Twice-divorced, depressed, unemployed, Graham is frozen in inaction as he faces the so-called “big blackness.”
Enter Tanya (the delightful Ella Dershowitz, and the one character who actually does wear a costume, appropriate for her current job). She’s a single-mom, aspiring to be an accountant, working as a bartender to support her two-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, she’s determined to save Graham – by marrying him and changing his life, of course. “You’re a PWP,” she tells him (translation Partner Without Prospects).”I don’t want my daughter trapped in a middle-wage life.”
Next, enter Miranda (the terrific Amber Tamblyn) – another soul Tanya’s trying to save. She’s a twenty-something who’s drowning in debt and sleeping around to help pay off $200,000 in student loans (“from ritzy schools, that’s how I destroyed my life,” she explains). Tanya met Miranda in the bar, where one of her violent boyfriends has threatened to kill her with knives, so Tanya has offered her refuge in Graham’s living room. There, Miranda tells her life story, commiserates with Graham about their shared “mom” problems, and proposes that they run away together. “We’re the children of sad mothers, seizing their own happiness,” she declares.
But before they can escape, enter David – her current middle-aged “employer” (who pays her for sex). Played by the hilarious Frank Wood with a straight face, David is a wealthy plastic surgeon who specializes in “wound drains,” supports a charity called “The Smile Train,” and has wounds of his own to nurse. He’s fallen for another woman (a fifty-something bi-sexual who doesn’t want to sleep with him), and Miranda’s wildly jealous.
Is this getting too complicated? That’s the ultimate charm of this play about growing up, at whatever age you find yourself. As the plot spins more and more out of control, there are further shocks in store – ones I won’t spoil by revealing. Suffice it to say that it’s delightful to spend an hour and a half with these zany folks, whose antics have been directed with skill and precision by Peter DuBois.
Can You Forgive Her? (whose title is taken from a nineteenth-century novel by Anthony Trollope) addresses substantial themes like love, money, work, commitment and parenthood. By giving it the “black comedy” treatment, Gionfriddo takes us for a wild, entertaining ride and at the same time gives us a meaningful moral. “We have to stop hurting ourselves to make our mother’s dreams happen,” says Graham. “If you can buy happiness, buy it.”
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Can You Forgive Her? By Gina Gionfriddo, directed by Peter DuBois, at the Vineyard Theatre through June 11