Black Dahlia Theatre
“How does one deal with the aftermath of an unpardonable act?” said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. That’s the question that playwright David Schulner poses with subtle brilliance in Forgiveness. When the play begins, Jill (Emily Bergl) is driving her fiancé, Ben (Peter Smith), to meet her long estranged father, Sam. Years before, she discloses, her father had raped her. Ben can hardly believe his ears—and simply can’t accept it when Jill tells him that Sam is a changed man and that she has forgiven him. Once the two arrive and meet her father’s new wife and stepchild, Forgiveness “basically offers a series of scenes in which awkward social exchanges hint at far more challenging moral questions.”
To his credit, Schulner never tells us what to think, said Dany Margolies in Backstage. But his script’s ambiguity creates a tough task for actors. Sam certainly behaves like a reformed man, but “the way Morlan Higgins plays him, we’re not sure.” Director Matt Shakman weaves through the script’s dark places with help from an array of actresses who never put a foot wrong. As Jill’s stepmother, Lee Garlington is “so real, so emotionally present, it’s blissfully painful” to watch her. Kendall Toole, a 17-year-old, plays both Jill’s stepsister and, in flashbacks, her abused younger self. Meanwhile, “Bergl seems translucent: We know Jill’s thoughts, and we sense her emotions.” But can we bring ourselves to forgive as she does?