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Home > Columnists > Doug Strassler
May 24, 2017

Checking In With Darren Pettie

Darren Pettie with Amber Tamblyn (Carol Rosegg)

By Doug Strassler

Graham is a lost man. Twice divorced, fortysomething, mourning the recent death of his mother. One gathers he hasn't made the most forward-thinking decisions in his life. And as we meet him, just as he has gotten betrothed to Tanya, a waitress and single mother, he seems to be on the precipice of yet another once he meets self-absorbed grafter Miranda.

It's tricky terrain, this triangle, especially since as Gina Gionfriddo, the playwright of the new show Can You Forgive Her?, which houses these three characters and is currently enjoying its premiere at the Vineyard Theatre, has built it on rather askew territory. It's a melodramatic story told through a lens with darkly comic hues. (Peter DuBois directs the show).

What helps the show significantly is that as Graham, the fulcrum of all the show's off-kilter action, is embodied by stalwart New York City stage and screen actor Darren Pettie (Detroit, Incident at Vichy).

"This is not an obvious comedy, but it's also not to be played totally straight," Pettie said. "But our company has found a way to walk that fine line." (Ella Dershowitz and Amber Tamblyn play the two women in Graham's orbit.)

"I see Graham as a guy who is middle-aged, but now hi mortality is really starting to face him, with the death of his mother," Pettie added. "He's sort of stuck, not able to complete what he feels like he's been left with – and he's also struggling with choices he has made throughout his life. He's been going with the flow, which isn't terrible, but without too much self-reflection."

Forgive finds Graham just as he is forced to reflect on his decisions (and, perhaps, his indecision as well). As a performer, though, the journeyman actor has demonstrated plenty of the right instinct, working alongside Olympia Dukakis in Roundabout's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, Nathan Lane on Broadway in Butley, and opposite John Slattery as Lucky Strike heir Lee Garner, Jr., on TV's Mad Men. Next, Pettie will be seen on The Mist, Spike TV's serialized adaptation of the film, itself taken from the Stephen King novella. It debuts on June 22.

But Pettie remains focused on the play at hand. "Gina writes very chewable words for actors; her dialogue just feels good," he said in praise of his playwright even as he still navigates what's eating away at Graham. "Life gets surreal sometimes. It's like those late nights out at the bar with lots of booze – then the lights come up and it's back to life.

"Graham's character sees something that he thought was true maybe isn't true," Pettie continued, echoing the title of his play with a question of his own. "Can an adult only have intoxicating relationships or healthy relationships?"

As the long as he keeps the former on the stage, Pettie should be just fine.

For more information on Can You Forgive Her?, go to


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