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BWW Review: Women Balance Sex, Marriage and Finance in Gina Gionfriddo's CAN YOU FORGIVE HER?

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As with her first Pulitzer-finalist play, BECKY SHAW, the title of Gina Gionfriddo's sharp-tongued comedy Can You Forgive Her? is a literary reference.

Can You Forgive Her?
Ella Deshowitz and Darren Pettie
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

And while the ninety-minute contemporary comedy of manners shares little plotwise with Anthony Trollope's 1864 novel, the theme of women balancing sex, marriage and finance remains at the forefront.

It's Halloween night at the New Jersey seaside cottage once owned by the deceased mother of Graham (Darren Pettie), a middle-aged fellow, currently unemployed, who has avoided growing roots with a free-lance career that requires him to travel from city to city helping new bars attract regular clienteles.

A two-time divorcee, Graham has been stuck in an emotional malaise since his mom's passing, giving no serious thought as to what to do with the worse-for-wear home, not to mention the boxes of papers left behind. His mother was a prolific, though unpublished, writer who never switched to computers.

His single mom girlfriend, Tanya (Ella Deshowitz), is tired of making bad romantic choices (Her child's dad was a heroin addict who immediately scooted without a trace after learning of her pregnancy.) and coaxes him into making real plans for the future, including marrying her.

She's even made it easy for him by presenting well-researched options involving either selling the house, using it as a rental or living there and starting a business.

Perhaps it's a wink to Gionfriddo's source that Tanya is wearing a serving wench costume, on her way to her job tending bar; a temporary gig while she's saving up for her education.

Unseen by the audience, Graham is hanging out at Tanya's workplace when a loud tussle arises between Miranda (Amber Tamblyn), dressed as a sexy witch, and her technology geek date Sateesh (Eshan Bay). In order to keep things under control, Tanya asks Graham to take Miranda back to his place until her shift is over.

It turns out that Miranda keeps arrangements with sugar daddies, and she was expecting to spend the night at Sateesh's hotel room after a shopping date. She's also keeping tabs with the older, emotionally distant but publicly philanthropic David (Frank Wood) who has been paying off the $200,000 student loan that helped her earn two degrees in exchange for two dates a week.

Can You Forgive Her?
Frank Wood and Amber Tamblyn
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

At the start of their lengthy get-aquainted scene, Graham shows no desire to stray from Tanya, but Miranda's free-spirited lifestyle, and no-chains attitude towards relationships, is comfortingly familiar to him; enough even for him to put up with her occasional racist blurt.

While Tanya appeared to be the sensible grown-up in the opening scene, spelling out to Graham the conditions under which she'd stay with him, the sudden threat of the attractively unconventional Miranda has her switching to defensive mode to try and save her engagement.

Tony-winner Wood doesn't enter until late in the game; his David casually accepting Miranda's verbal abuse while confident that his bankroll ensures him the upper hand in their business relationship.

As with the premiere productions of BECKY SHAW and RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN (her second Pulitzer finalist), Can You Forgive Her? is directed with a realistic tone by Peter DuBois that either clashes with or adds an unexpected texture to the more unbelievable plot points and character traits.

But even if Gionfriddo's stories tend to tax one's suspension of disbelief (She might be writing some of the subtlest satire of the 21st Century.), crisp, funny and smart dialogue tends to dominate her plays.

Wryly highbrow, Can You Forgive Her? presents us with two enterprising women who, over 150 years after Trollope's characters, rely on relationships with questionably desirable men for their financial survival. With the odds stacked against them by a patriarchal society, sex and love remain valuable commodities.


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