Huntington’s ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ is a mixed bag
BOSTON — The playwright Gina Gionfriddo has found an artistic home at the Huntington Theatre Company, where productions of her ”Becky Shaw” and “Rapture, Blister, Burn” were warmly greeted after debuting off-Broadway.
Now the Huntington is staging the world premiere of her new play “Can You Forgive Her?” at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts.
“Can You Forgive Her?” takes its name from a two-volume novel by Anthony Trollope written in 1864-65, which describes a trio of women and their chase after love and financial security, something both of Gionfriddo’s female characters lust after in this piece.
The play veers off in several different directions during its one-act and 105 minutes, which plays out over a Halloween evening and early the next morning on All Saints Day.
Tanya (Tanya Fischer) is a 27-year-old single mother. She has made bad choices – the worst of which was having a baby with a heroin addict – “He told me he only did heroin at parties!” – and now works resentfully as a bartender after slowly crawling out of debt.
Tanya is pondering her future with her laid-back 40-year-old boyfriend Graham (Chris Henry Coffey), who has returned home after the death of his mother to the mother’s New Jersey beach town home that has seen better days.
The house has value – perhaps a lot of value if Graham can muster the time and effort to fix it up – but it also comes with boxes and boxes of his mother’s life’s work as an unpublished writer.
Graham is betwixt and between over what to do with the boxes, having spent four months lolling around the house without accomplishing much of anything, and Tanya is pushing him to get back on track, read his mother’s papers and fix up the house if they are to have a life together. She is pushing a self-help financial book that she believes holds the key to their lives together.
Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois, who directs this production, has known Gionfriddo since they met at Brown University in the 1990s; he directed the Huntington’s productions of “Becky Shaw” and “Rapture, Blister, Burn.” after first directing the shows off-Broadway
DuBois was a key player in helping Gionfriddo develop “Can You Forgive Her?” through a series of readings and a weeklong workshop in New York before bringing it to the Huntington.
As with earlier works, Gionfriddo’s dialogue crackles with pithy one-liners, but this time she’s juggling so many theatrical balls at once that it’s no surprise when some of them thud harmlessly to earth.
At various times Gionfriddo and her characters will address the issues of financial security for women, personal responsibility, student loan debt, economic stagnation, and what we believe we are entitled to when it comes to personal happiness.
A lot happens over the course of a chaotic Halloween evening when a sexy young woman named Miranda (Meredith Florenza), 28, enters the fray, as Tanya sends her to Graham’s home to hide when it turns out Miranda is being threatened by a man who has accompanied her to Tanya’s bar.
Miranda spills her guts to the welcoming Graham. At every turn, Miranda has made fiscally reckless choices that have left her with $200,000 in debt from her undergraduate and graduate liberal arts degrees – come on down, Bernie Sanders — and the debt has hemmed her in, forcing her into a “financial arrangement,” a pay-to-play deal with a wealthy plastic surgeon named David.
Miranda appears to be available for a price – almost any price – and cozies up to Graham even as she describes her arrangement with David.
With the help of an oblivious man named Sateesh (Theo Iyer), she has followed David south from New York to spy on his friendship with a woman.
But Miranda is panicked – given her financial straits, she is fixated on finding out just how far David has gone down the road with the other woman.
When Miranda summons David, fearing for her life if an enraged Sateesh finds her, she hones in on the relationship. “Do you ask her about her day?” she grills him, worried that he will establish both a sexual and emotional commitment that will force her out of the picture.
Allyn Burrows is on the mark as David, the emotionally vacant doctor who is distant from his family, and, according to Miranda, is “missing key chromosomes” whose arrangement with Miranda allows him keep his emotional distance from her. The irony is that he is seeking a real connection, not just one involving sex.
Two of the strengths of Gionfriddo – a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist – are the sharpness of her dialogue and her ability to create complicated, interesting characters, the kind she has written for television dramas such as “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Cold Case,” “Borgia,” and “House of Cards.” ‘
But the situations she creates here aren’t always believable and logical, such as Tanya sending a sexy woman home to be alone with her boyfriend, or expecting us to care or identify with the situation of characters such as Miranda, a self-centered, selfish sort who has made bad choices at every opportunity.
Scenic designer Lauren Helpern’s beach home is in dire need of renovations; its furniture a mixture of forgotten items well past their prime, with the casualness that would mark a beach home.
Gionfriddo does a few comic jolts in store for us centered around the Hallowenn theme, especially concerning Sateesh..
Gionfriddo and her characters have given us a lot to digest, but during a six-course theatrical meal, only two or three of the courses are easily digested and ring true.
And that isn’t quite enough to get “Can You Forgive Her” – as it’s currently being presented – over the hump.
The Huntington Theatre Company production of Gina Gionfriddo’s “Can You Forgive Her?” Directed by Peter DuBois; Scenic Design by Lauren Helpern; Costume Design, Mary Lauve; Lighting Design, Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design by Daniel Kluger. At the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through April 24. http://www.huntingtontheatre.org.