“Don’t let the Indian in!” The aforementioned phrase is one among many caustic one liners that suffuses the Huntington Theatre Company’s new play Can You Forgive Her? It is written by prolific writer and playwright Gina Gionfriddo, Brown University graduate, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and writer for Television shows such as “Law & Order” and “Cold Case.” The play is directed by Huntington’s own Peter Dubois and is expected to run from Mar. 5th through Apr.24th at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion in the South End.
The play is mostly about Miranda, a prima facie heartless and nefarious young white woman who is entombed in arrears, namely college loans, credit cards and a lavish lifestyle she can’t afford; which attests to the spirit of the times today since most of us can identify with her quandary when it comes to living beyond our means. During her perpetual quest to keep up appearances by straining to sustain the often precarious echelons of social class and status, she uses her feminine wiles to build several quid pro quo relationships with affluent “Sugar Daddies” with “enough sugar” to help her sustain her debt-ridden existence; that which will implicate her in potentially catastrophic consequences as the narrative dictates.
“This play has a perspective on reality in a sense that these types of relationships actually exist,” explained female spectator Zoe Arguello answering to my request for her take on the production. She went on to say, “sugar daddy or rich guy with intellectually and emotionally intelligent female, who use one another assuming that they are balancing out their troubled lives but are living in a fantasy not reality.”
Miranda’s “reality” is that she’s HUNGRY for cash and her appetite is insatiable. In the French Creole culture, she is what we would call a “Piyagḗ”, anyone who will stop at nothing until they clean out your bank account before moving on to their next victim. What the play does, however, is raise the question: “why” Miranda has to be a “Piyagḗ?” Is she simply a victim of her circumstances, a casualty to her choices or is she tragically aggrieved by a consumerist and socio-economic status obsessed society? Can we forgive her?
In the play, Miranda slighted a man from India whom she kept referring to as “The Indian;” thus alluding to the subtext of her racism. The “Indian” remains nameless throughout the play inferring of how often minorities are seen solely for their ethnicity and not for their humanity. She came to think that this man wanted to kill her because he found out that she has several other “boyfriends” and in her flight she interwove herself into the lives of another couple navigating their own convoluted relationship woes. The characters possess undeniable chemistry and the dialogue is meticulously clever and fast paced. The story is believable and arguably true to our present day realities as depicted on Television shows, within our own families and in the newspapers.
The theatre often imitates life and this is the third play I’ve seen at the Huntington Theatre that tackles subjects ostensibly ripped right from the newspaper headlines. A Confederacy of Dunces, Disgraced and now “Can You Forgive Her” all have these three subtexts in common: fear of the unknown, dissatisfaction and unrest with present day realities and ultimately confronting our inherent racism. Nevertheless Gionfriddo’s brilliance is readily apparent when she manages to render uncomfortable topics whole heartedly laughable. In an interview with Huntington dramaturge Charles Haugland, Gionfriddo spoke about some of the themes that ignited this play.
“I had become fixated on a crime that was a murder-suicide,” said Gionfriddo. She went on to say, “A couple went on a date in which the woman had publicly treated the man badly…and it ended with him killing her and then himself.” She added that, “I kept thinking ‘Oh, I want to know more about this case,’ and I really couldn’t find out any more, so I created a fictional story to explore why I was so obsessed with it. That is where [the character of] Miranda came from: a woman who finds herself on a very self-destructive path…I wanted to know how she got to that moment.”
Some of the concurrent themes range from the self-help book and spiritual search phenomenon; that which Miranda refers to as a “… type of self improvement cult pyramid…”, alcoholism, grief, anger, menopause, living beyond your means, mother/son relationships, differences between the sexes and differences between gay and straight men. In a hilarious scene when Miranda is “spilling her guts” to the character Graham whom she originally thought was gay and when her assumption was refuted, she screeched, “How could you NOT be gay! You’re obsessed with your mother!!!” She went on to say, “I only tell my sh*t to gays! They GET the blackness! I’m humiliated!” She is characterized as being among “active and energetic form[s] of female wretchedness.” Miranda, as she describes herself, is “an outsider aspiring to the ruling class.” The issue of “class” permeates throughout the play. Some of the other topics range from taking refuge in the joyful innocence of children, to taking jabs at fat families with dressed-up pets; all amalgamated together to make for a hilarious experience.
I believe that the theatre exists to help us navigate the often complex nuances of our lives, re-affirm that we are all connected and as America’s founding father George Washington once said, “We are one.” Basically we can all relate to these topics of love, anger, hate, the quest for peace and the pursuit of happiness. At the risk of making broad generalizations, I think that we all have a little “Miranda” in us, we can all be cunning, selfish, and hateful and we also all want to fit in and be accepted, even if it means living beyond our means in a flagrant effort to impress others to make being accepted easier.
I was thinking about all of this while walking by the Boston Harbor the other day and I came upon these colorful words written artfully and probably by a local artist. It said: “Nothing’s for keeps except that we must keep going. You’ll spend your entire life searching, ok? We all want to belong. So let’s all get along…” I think forgiveness is an imperative component in our quest to get along. Miranda offers no apologies for her shrewd, duplicitous and selfish ways and yet still, can’t we identify with her? And more importantly, can we forgive her?
Jacques Fleury is the author of Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue. His collaborative CD A Lighter Shade of Blue with folk group Sweet Wednesday is available on iTunes.