Off Broadway Review: ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ With Amber Tamblyn

Eshan Bay, Ella Dershowitz, Darren Pettie, Amber Tamblyn, Frank Wood.

“Can You Forgive Her?,” a whimsical piece of work by Gina Gionfriddo (“Becky Shaw,” “Rapture, Blister, Burn”), looks like a play, talks like a play, and seems to want to be a play. But for all its honorable ambitions, it turns out to be more of a party than a play. Coming on the heels of a funeral, the festivities are droll but restrained — right up until the moment that Amber Tamblyn shows up.  Insistently alive, her outrageously out-there character draws all the light and heat in the room and pretty much turns this party on its head.

A comedy of manners of sorts, the show opens on Halloween night in a rundown summer cottage on the Jersey shore. The house is the only legacy left to Graham (Darren Pettie, ineffably cool) by his late mother — aside from guilt-inducing boxes and boxes of her carefully labeled, unpublished literary output. The cottage is so hopelessly dreary, in a circa-1970s way, that set designer Allen Moyer is unable to give it even a touch of charm.

Graham explains to his girlfriend Tanya (Ella Dershowitz) that, although it’s nobody’s idea of a cute beach house, the cottage was important income for his divorced mother, who could afford no more than the most basic improvements to rent it out. Right away, we’re in Gionfriddo territory, clucking over the unrealized dreams of women without the financial means or emotional support to achieve them.

Tanya, a single mother who works in a bar, has her own modest dreams. She wants to settle down with Graham, if he can only get his act together and commit himself to a decent livelihood.  “Drinking and being afraid to go through your mother’s stuff is not a livelihood,” she tells him.  Dershowitz tries hard not to whine about Tanya’s grievances, which sound cheerlessly funny in Gionfriddo’s cutting comic voice. But hiding behind the humor is her dead-serious theme about the constraints on women who appear to be in a state of depression, but really only lack the fiscal security and emotional independence to be happy.

If Graham lacks gumption (and Pettie is pricelessly funny about being a worm), Tanya has enough for both of them. She draws up an impressively detailed work outline of exactly how Graham can get the cottage in shape to command a more respectable rental income. She even has plans for a frozen yogurt stand on the beach. The banter between them is clever and yet sober enough to make us think that we’ve got a handle on the playwright’s intentions. But the minute Tanya is off to work and out of sight, Miranda (Tamblyn) shows up and the whole play switches gears.

Even in a demure black cocktail dress, Miranda manages to look a little bit dangerous — just enough to make us question her story of being chased by a homicidal date with a box of knives. Her dialogue is blunt and raw, and Tamblyn makes it burn. “You can’t think deep thoughts when you’re loaded?” she challenges Graham. “I can. I got a PhD drunk.” Her shaggy dog story about her Halloween adventures is a jaw-dropper; in fact, all her stories are jaw-droppers.

Like Tanya, Miranda is dependent on other people for financial survival, but unlike Tanya, she’s taken another road — not a modern woman’s route to independence, but the more traditional survival strategy of latching onto some rich, indulgent sugar daddy. In her cosmic indifference to anyone else in the universe but herself, Miranda somehow manages to get Graham to open up and talk, and the saga of his miserable family history is hilariously sad. Listening to these two swapping life stories is like being strapped into a Tilt-a-Whirl car and getting whip-lashed. Graham tells a sweet story about taking Tanya’s little girl for a walk and watching her blow kisses to the world. Miranda tops that with her own cynical story of teaching middle school kids. “They’re sending hate texts to each other. They’re bullying each other to suicide. Made me want to kill myself.”

Despite Peter DuBois’ savvy helming, none of this brittle conversation leads to a plot, let alone a resolution, but it is what it is — great gallows humor and a good way to celebrate the Witches’ Sabbath.

Off Broadway Review: 'Can You Forgive Her?' With Amber Tamblyn

Vineyard Theater; 132 seats; $79 top. Opened May 23, 2017. Reviewed May 19. Running time: ONE HOUR, 35 MIN.

Production: A Vineyard Theater presentation of a play in one act, originally produced by the Huntington Theater Company, by Gina Gionfriddo.

Creative: Directed by Peter DuBois. Set, Allen Moyer; costumes, Jessica Pabst; lighting, Russell H. Champa; sound, Daniel Kluger & Lee Kinney; production stage manager, Terri K. Kohler.

Cast: Eshan Bay, Ella Dershowitz, Darren Pettie, Amber Tamblyn, Frank Wood.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]


    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]


    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content