Huntington’s ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ Makes Right Comic Choices (4.5 Stars)

by Mike Hoban

Can You Forgive Her? – Written by Gina Gianfrido; Directed by Peter Dubois; Scenic Design by Lauren Helpern; Costume Design by Mary Lauve; Lighting Design by Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design by Daniel Kluger. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., Boston through April 24.

Gina Gianfrido’s Can You Forgive Her? – now enjoying its world premiere run at the Boston Center for the Arts – is proof positive that a play doesn’t necessarily have to examine life’s big questions in order to be immensely entertaining. While there are a myriad of themes running through this often hilarious work, there really isn’t one central idea that enables us to tell our friends what the play was “about” in a sentence or two. What we get instead is a thoroughly engaging character study of two couples that came together as a direct result of a string of bad choices by the two young women, now involved with two very different older men. One is seeking a solution, however, while the other (our anti-hero) continues to bang her head against the wall to fix her metaphorical headache.

When the play opens, we meet Tanya, a 27-year old single mother who is making her living as a bartender. She is preparing to break things off with her older boyfriend, Graham, based on the advice of a popular book dedicated to helping women stop making bad choices, particularly with prospective partners. She has a history of bad judgement, having married a “casual heroin user”, the father of her child, who has since left the picture. Graham is twenty-plus years her senior and unemployed. He is supposed to be sorting through his recently deceased mother’s belongings – apparently to assuage his guilt for him not visiting her before she passed – but mostly he sits around the house drinking. He (of course) asks her to marry him, and she accepts on the condition that he changes his life by acting responsibly and renovating his mother’s house to prepare it for sale. He promises to do so, and she skips merrily off to work, oblivious to the plethora of red flags, because well, he did promise to change.

We next meet the fiery Miranda, whose self-inflicted predicaments provide a full theater season’s worth of laughs. Young, beautiful and patently amoral, Miranda was sent home from the bar with Graham by now-fiancé Tanya to lay low after her date threatened to kill her. The brainy but caustic Miranda has amassed a ton of debt via a combination of student loans (for a not-so-practical Master’s in literature) and a lifestyle she can’t afford, and her solution is to use her most obvious asset – her good looks – to bail herself out. She does so by entering into an arrangement with a wealthy man twice her age, where he pays down her debt in exchange for no-strings sex, but the plan goes awry when Miranda finds herself seeking more than just cash from her emotionally barren benefactor.

Watching Miranda (the terrific Meredith Forlenza, seen as daughter Joanna in last season’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at the Huntington) explain her life and the logic behind her decision-making process to Graham is comedy gold. His life may be absolutely rudderless, but compared to her train wreck of an existence, he’s a model of stability. Despite her education, she has almost no ability to connect the dots between her seemingly hopeless situation and her role in creating it. As Graham remarks at one point in the play, “That’s the problem with the examined life – you might find out you’re unhappy.” But as much of an unlikable narcissist Miranda is, it doesn’t mean we can’t wait to see what comes out of her mouth next. Playwright Gianfrido has given her protagonist plenty of brilliant material to work with, and Forlenza makes the most of it, launching her scathing invective at everything from the teaching profession to the Smile Train charity without ever once turning us completely off.

This is a well-directed, fast paced comedy with a great cast. As Tanya, Tanya Fischer is convincing as single mother seeking a way out of her pattern of bad decisions (even if she appears headed for another one), Chris Henry Coffee is utterly charming as the man-child Graham, and local favorite Allyn Burrows is perfectly cast as the WASPy, robotic David, Miranda’s older “lover”. This piece is laugh out loud funny, and a very good “choice” for an evening of theater. For more info, go to: