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Obsession, Security & Choice: Gina Gionfriddo on Can You Forgive Her?

Gina and Peter

CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? IS THE THIRD PLAY BY GINA GIONFRIDDO TO BE PRODUCEDAT THE HUNTINGTON, FOLLOWING BECKY SHAW AND RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. THIS PRODUCTION MARKS THE FIRST TIME THE HUNTINGTON WILL PRESENT A WORLD PREMIERE OF HER WORK. BEFORE REHEARSALS BEGAN, SHE SPOKE TO HUNTINGTON DRAMATURG CHARLES HAUGLAND ABOUT THE THEMES THAT INSPIRED THE PLAY.

Charles Haugland: What sparked the play for you?

Gina Gionfriddo: I had become fixated on a crime that was a murder-suicide. A couple went on a date in which the woman had publically treated the man badly, maybe humiliated him, and it ended with him killing her and then himself. 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 on this particular night. I wanted to know how she got to that moment.

Then, the character of Graham and his mom’s house came more from my own life. I had just had a baby, and my home office became her room. I am old enough to have begun writing before computers, so I have a lot of juvenile writing from my youth that is on paper; I had to justify why I wasn’t throwing it away. I asked myself, “What does it mean to hold onto things? Am I operating under some delusion that it’s going to go in a library?” The ego involved in saving my juvenile writings was interesting to me. I was interested in leaving belongings behind as an aggressive act.

"I was... interested in the self-destructiveness involved in, as Miranda calls it, 'a suicidal amount of debt.' I have known people who have done it. I was interested in the arrogance of, 'What are you going to do to me?' We do not have debtors’ prison, so what are you going to do?"

Your character Miranda has a really complicated relationship to material objects, too, and all the characters have unique and complex relationships to money. Was that something you were consciously interested in exploring?

That is an ongoing obsession. I am interested in the panic that sets in at a certain age if one, particularly a woman, is seeing that financial security is nowhere to be found. What can be done? Is it too late to try for a different career? Is there a man around who could provide it? The title of Can You Forgive Her? is also the title of an Anthony Trollope novel, which is about women weighing their options in terms of the men who are out there. There are the men who have money versus the men who are charming and don’t, and the title in Trollope’s case asks, “Is it unforgivable for these women to expect more out of life than the dull suitor they are expected to go with?” In my play, there is something about all of the women — Miranda, Tanya, even Graham’s mother — having an urgent appetite for something they do not have.

I was also interested in the self-destructiveness involved in, as Miranda calls it, “a suicidal amount of debt.” I have known people who have done it. I was interested in the arrogance of, “What are you going to do to me?” We do not have debtors’ prison, so what are you going to do? 

Where did this idea come from that our financial choices become a representation of our deepest selves? Have we all sold ourselves on some colossal lie?

My own take on it is that salaries have stagnated, so we have grown up believing in something that does not exist anymore. When I was a kid, my friends had big houses, and their parents were probably something along the lines of a teacher and a stay-at-home mom. You used to be able to have so much more for so much less money that I feel like people of my generation are shocked to find, “Oh, I can’t be a college professor and have lots of money.” It is stunning to me to look back and see how stay-at-home moms were the norm when I was a kid. I don’t know many women who can afford to make that choice now.

The play is one act and takes place on a single night, which is a different structure than other plays you have written. Did you set out to change things up?

My brain was working differently because I had a baby, and I was dealing with a certain amount of sleep deprivation. The way that seemed to work was that, if I timed it correctly, I could have razor sharp focus on one thing. So I thought, “Let this be the ticking clock play that I’ve never written. Let this be the single-set play where it is happening in almost real-time and there’s a crisis.”

Has your relationship to that impulse changed as you’ve been working on it?

Now that I’ve slept more I can see what ideas were bubbling under the surface of the action. The idea came from reading about a murder, which got me into the mindset that I was writing my “Long Day’s Journey Into a Destructive Night” play. As I got into it, my voice is my voice, and the people coping in this situation are coping comically. The way they talk is necessarily black comedy — it’s almost as bleak as I imagined — but the characters still spin things comically and lightly to keep things from going under. Everyone has a sense of comic desperation.


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South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA: 527 Tremont Street, Boston MA 02116
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