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Can You Forgive Her?

My aunt said I keep choosing the road less traveled and that road is less traveled for a reason. It's a total dead end. — Tanya.
Can You Forgive Her?
Gina Gionfriddo has borrowed the title of her new play from Anthony Trollope's 19th Century novel, Can Your Forgive her? about three women making life choices. However, it's firmly set in the internet age. To be quite specific, it zeroes in on the recent years of diminished upward mobility and increased economic insecurity.

Though the cast features three men and two women, the men are there to illuminate the women's efforts to reconcile their never out of style desire for love with the reality of paying the bills for their own or their children's educations. Consequently, money is very much a determining factor in choosing the roads traveled by the two young women whose mostly self-induced, problem riddled lives propel the plot.

Miranda's (Amber Tamblyn) relationship with a man she met on line has everything to do with his easing the humongous debts she occurred by choosing to go to a college she couldn't afford. Tanya (Ella Dershowitz), a divorced single mom, would love to accept Graham's (Darren Pettie) proposal but practicality has her questioning whether to be or not to be his bride. Though he owns the beach house in which their argument takes place while she still lives with her parents, he's displayed little inclination to make it into a substantial income producing property; nor does he seem to be clearing out the boxes of his recently deceased mother's papers or moving forward with a plan for the rest of his life.

But Tanya is no shoot-from-the-hip tweeter like our current commander in chief. And so Can You Forgive Her? opens with her responding to Graham's proposal with her carefully prepared document that details why traveling the "I do" road with him would be another bad choice — unless he agrees to several options. She's guided by the tips of a best-selling self-help book.

You might view Can You Forgive Her? as a continuation of Ms. Gionfriddo's clever new, original takes on classic literature from a bygone age and witty observations about the problems still getting in the way of a modern woman having it all. But unlike Becky Shaw, inspired by Thackeray's famous anti-heroine, neither Tanya or Miranda are especially engaging and witty characters. Nor do the situations and feelings they unspool during one madcap Halloween night come close to being as satisfyingly smart and amusing as the Pulitzer Prize runner up, Rapture, Blister, Burn.

Somehow, the playwright's aim to show how today's economy has given the American Dream a nightmarish twist, especially for women, has here evolved more into a rather silly, unbelievable and way too talky farce than an edgy dark comedy. Except for Giofriddo's sly put-down of best-seller self-help gurus and gullible women like Tanya who accept their advice as their holy grail, Can You Forgive Her? to qualify as a biting satire.

Allen Moyer has created a perfect beach house in need of a make-over as the setting for this madcap evening to run its course. Soon after Graham agrees to one of Tanya's demands for a "yes" and she departs for her job at a local bar. Miranda comes knocking at the door of Graham's house. It takes at least ten minutes before it's clear who she is and that Tanya has sent her there from the bar where she works. It seems a man Miranda dated on her days off from her sex-for-pay relationship has turned violent with frustration about her stringing him along.

To ratchet up the farcical confusion, Miranda calls on the man who at one point would have been called her sugar daddy to come to the rescue. And to complicate the Tanya-Graham romance, there's a distinct sign of mutual attraction between Graham and the sexy Miranda.

If all this sounds loaded with comic potential, it is. But that potential is only sporadically realized and the farcical proceedings are too muddled to work as either farce or satire.

It is clear, however. that Tanya and the debt-ridden Miranda are outliers from the American Dream of prosperity, and that the less economcally insecure men are outliers in terms of mental stability. Graham, who's been twice divorced seems stuck in some kind of emotional black hole since his mother's recent death. It's not so much that he's missing mom, but that he's crippled with pity and a frustrated need to give some meaning to her unhappy, unfulfilled life. David (Frank Wood) the oler man with whom Miranda has the debt easing relationship has made a ton of money as a plastic surgeon but though capable of juggling marital and extra marital relationships, he can't do emotion.

The actors all do their utmost to make us care about their not especially sympathetic characters. Ella Dershowitz is a bit too shrill, and the intensely animated Amber Tamblyn can't overcome the problematic, conflicting aspects of her character; for example, her lengthy revelations to Graham are peppered with literary references and yet this well-educated woman keeps calling her volatile date, a tech expert who's come to the States from India on a work visa, "the Indian."

As for the men who the two women would like to love without putting money considerations first, the unfailingly splendid Frank Wood, whose David is the most unsympathetic member of this foursome, turns out to be the most genuine funny and watchable.

Eshan Bay's Sateesh, the other man in Miranda's orbit, is more talked about than on stage. When he does show up it's too brief to make much of an impression.

This farcical wild goose chase does end up making Tanya fight for the man she wasn't sure she wanted. And the way she helps him to finally find a way to understand and honor his needy mother makes for a touching finale of an otherwise too flawed play populated by equally flawed characters.

Links to Gina Gionfriddo's plays reviewed at Curtainup: US Drag . . . After Ashley (Also at the Vineyard. . . Rapture, Blister, Burn and Becky Shaw (Both more successfully directed by Peter du Bois).

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an You Forgive Her? by Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Peter DuBois
Cast (In Order of Appearance: Ella Dershowitz(Tany), Darren Pettie (Graham), Amber Tamblyn (Miranda), Frank Wood, (David), Evan Bay (Sateesh)
Scenic design: Allen Moyer
Costumes: Jessica Pabst
Lighting: Russell H. Champa
Sound: Daniel Kluger & Lee Kinney
Stage Manager:Terri K. Kohler
Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes
Vineyard Theatre
NY premiere of . From 5/04/17; opening 5/23/17; closing 6/11/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 5/17 press Preview

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