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Theater Review: The Black Dahlia Offers Forgiveness

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Daddy's little girl: Kendall Toole and Morlan Higgins star in Forgiveness at Black Dahlia Theatre. | Photo: Kurt Boetcher

Daddy's little girl: Kendall Toole and Morlan Higgins star in Forgiveness at Black Dahlia Theatre. | Photo: Kurt Boetcher
- by Lyle Zimskind for LAist

Young Ben is on his way to meet his fiancée Jill’s father Sam, stepmother Penny, and stepsister Jillian for the first time this weekend. As the couple drive down the highway, only a few minutes away from Jill’s childhood home, she suddenly divulges a painful secret: that Sam molested her when she was 13 years old. But even though she has had to live with the trauma of her memories ever since then, Jill has managed with great effort and determination to forgive her father for what he did to her. Now, as the couple approaches the fateful house, can Ben summon up a comparable forgiveness himself, if only for Jill’s sake? Or can he at least keep himself together until they leave again on Sunday?

Forgiveness, David Schulner’s family confrontation drama now in its world premiere run at the award-winning Black Dahlia Theatre, is at its best when it picks at the already frayed family ties between Jill (Emily Bergl), Sam (Morlan Higgins), Penny (Lee Garlington), and Jillian (Kendall Toole). Which inadvertently or not leaves Ben (Peter Smith) the odd man out, an unwilling interloper who has rather less of interest to say about the household’s unhappy history and present tensions than both he and the playwright seem to think he does. Eventually, even Jill becomes exasperated with her beloved’s obsessive righteousness, suggesting to her father that “I can’t dig it all up again just to catch him up to speed. It’ll kill me.” It’s not that bad for us in the audience, but we get what she means.

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Still, even if one might ideally imagine the text of Forgiveness tweaked for future productions to make Ben something less of a noodge, this show is very much worth seeing right now for the exceptional performances of Bergl, Higgins, and Garlington as scarred survivors whose respective efforts to move their lives forward inevitably collide. Director Matt Shakman—aided considerably by set designer Kurt Boetcher and lighting designers Heather Graff and Richard Peterson—artfully keep the action moving between different rooms in the family house and, in one or two well-placed flashback scenes, between the past and present. And as Ben and Jill drive away again at the play’s conclusion, we see that at least some of these characters have become ready to face the future more resolutely than they could have before it started.

The Black Dahlia Theatre
5453 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. in March
Tickets $26.99 at, $16.50 at