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Turning a true crime story into a play about love and loss

The Huntington Theatre's new show is a nail-biter.
Allyn Burrows, Meredith Forlenza, and Chris Henry Coffey for "Can You Forgive Her." Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

How can a date night with a lover go so terribly wrong?

That’s the reigning question in Gina Gionfriddo’s upcoming dark comedy “Can You Forgive Her?” which is very loosely based on a true crime story. Like most romances, there’s more to the picture than the eye can see.

Miranda (Meredith Forlenza) is the devious, broke protagonist who dates a rich, emotionally unavailable doctor David (Allyn Burrows) and another man, Sateesh (Theogan Iyer),to her heart’s content. The arrangement goes well — at least until Sateesh threatens to kill her on Halloween night at a bar.

“She’s the victim of her own mistakes,” explains Gionfriddo about Miranda. “She behaves badly in the story. The play is partly about understanding how you get to be a person behaving that badly.”

Characters in crisis are Gionfriddo’s specialty

The playwright’s most recent work, the Pulitzer Prize nominated “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” is about two middle-aged women who covet the others’ life. An earlier play, “U.S. Drag”, tells the tale of two young New York women who look for life’s meaning — and rent money — in unusual places. Gionfriddo has even written for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” in the past.

“Like any writer, I’m interested in people’s flaws and failings. To commit a crime is just… it’s kind of the worst case scenario. I think we’re all wrestling with our flaws and frustrations. [I have] a certain fascination with people who transgress and the people who are the victims of those transgressions.”

On casting an unlikable character

“If you have written a character who risks being unlikable, it certainly helps if you’re casting someone who has qualities that are going to draw an audience in — whether it’s charm, whether it’s magnetism,” says Gionfriddo on deciding who should play Miranda.

A personal touch

After Miranda’s incident with Sateesh, a stranger at the bar called Graham (Chris Henry Coffey) offers the 20-some woman refuge. The sorrowful character is in the midst of deciding what to do with a collection of his deceased mother’s writings.

Gionfriddo explained to Metro that she had to face a somewhat similar decision when contemplating how much of her writing from early in her career she felt comfortable throwing away. “I was really thinking a lot about stuff and what we hold onto and what we let go.”

If you go:

Huntington Theatre presents“Can You Forgive Her?”
March 25 to April 24
CalderwoodPavilion at the BCA
527 Tremont St., Boston
(617) 266-0800
Starting at $20
huntingtontheatre.org

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