“Marry the man today/And change his ways tomorrow,” Adelaide advises Sarah in Guys And Dolls. That’s not good enough for Tanya, who chooses Halloween night to tell her somewhat aimless, twice-divorced boyfriend Graham that if he wants her hand in marriage, he needs to prove he’s got the cojones can support her. Tanya and Graham are the central, and least likable, characters in Gina Gionfriddo’s Can You Forgive Her?, a Victorian tale (what’s a girl with few prospects gotta do to survive?) tricked out in contemporary drag.
Graham agrees – he’ll restore the rundown beach house he inherited from Mom, he promises – as we beam thought waves to Tanya – Run! Run! – a single mother barely making ends meet by dressing as an Elizabethan wench (!) in the local theme bar. Their fragile truce is upended with the arrival of Miranda, as free-wheeling as Tanya is uptight. Miranda is $200,000 in debt from college loans, though she seems to spend the money she gets from her sugar daddy, David, on clothes, drugs and other good-time accouterments. Rather foolishly, she has shown up with Sateesh, aka sugar daddy number 2, while David is in town, raising the possibility of a funds freeze.
Played by Amber Tamblyn (Paint It Black) in revealing black and with the semi-daze of a heat-seeking missile on ‘ludes, Miranda also gets cozy with Graham, until Tanya comes home and provides a far more entertaining target for Miranda’s mirth. Same basic predicament, thoroughly different attitude: She finds Tanya every bit as self-deluding as Graham is. Things get even less interesting with the arrival of David, an emotional blank who wouldn’t be worth our time were he not being played with a cunning edge by Frank Wood.
Sateesh eventually will put in an appearance as well, wielding a scary-looking knife, adding for good measure some French farce to the proceedings. The coincidences beggar the imagination, and it’s important to remember that while unlikely plot twists and turns may have been the forte of Anthony Trollope (whose novel gives the play its name) and Charles Dickens, the women novelists of that time were more inclined to weave romance from ordinary yarns. It was, after all, Charlotte Brontë’s near-forgotten heroine Shirley Keeldar who begins her ur-feminist tale with the memorable promise of “something unromantic as Monday morning.”
Ella Dershowitz grows harder and less sympatico even as Tanya turns the tables back on Miranda, and Darren Pettie all but disappears as Graham. Eshan Bay has wild eyes as Sateesh, but he isn’t threatening for a moment in this blunt-edged play.