Amber Tamblyn, Emmy-nominated for Joan of Arcadia and a star of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, has a very busy month: After celebrating her birthday May 14, Paint It Black, a film she co-wrote, directed, and acts in, opens May 19, and she makes her Off-Broadway debut May 23 in Can You Forgive Her? at the Vineyard Theatre.
Until recently, Tamblyn counted herself “more of an audience person [than a stage performer],” but all that changed a couple of years ago when she stuck her timorous toe into the deep end of theatre with Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. “I had such a great time I sorta changed my opinion about acting [onstage] and what I was missing out on. I thought, ‘Wow! It’s not just fun to watch. It’s also fun to do.’”
Gina Gionfriddo’s Can You Forgive Her? was flashed in front of Amber’s eyes a week before she gave birth to her daughter, and, as she explains, “To give you an idea of how great this is: Two weeks after having a kid, I said yes to it!
“Gina’s one of my favorite playwrights. I’ve seen all her plays. I’ve wanted to do one by a female playwright, and she and Annie Baker are my two favorites. When I was offered this, there was no choice: ‘No matter how hard it will be, the answer is yes.’”
First, she had to finish her directorial debut, Paint It Black, which she and Ed Dougherty adapted from a novel by Janet Fitch (White Oleander). “It’s about two women who become obsessed with each other over the young man they both loved. One of them is his girlfriend, Alia Shawkat; the other is his mother, Janet McTeer. Both blame the other for his death. I describe it as: ‘If David Lynch had directed Grey Gardens.’ It lives in the Sunset Boulevard world—films like that. It has that tone.”
But she has no problem relinquishing the directorial reins to Peter DuBois for Can You Forgive Her?. He helmed both of Gionfriddo’s Pulitzer Prize finalist plays—2009’s Becky Shaw and 2013’s Rapture, Blister, Burn. “We began working together when we were in graduate school in Brown,” he says, “and we’ve been together ever since.
“This particular show really feels, to me, like America today,” admits DuBois. “It’s a dark comedy in the sense it holds up a mirror to what America is and we can recognize our country—but it’s also funny, which is where the catharsis comes in.”
Flanked by Frank Wood (Side Man) and Darren Pettie (Mad Men), Tamblyn plays a woman who one Halloween is forced to face the horror show of her own debt-driven life.
“Miranda,” Tamblyn explains, “is a terribly confused, rather awful human being—slightly racist, slightly homophobic—who has sorta squandered all her dreams away but positions herself as being this really important, famous, wonderful woman. Over the course of the play, you kinda see her crumble. It’s really quite extraordinary.”
And what message comes from her crashing and burning? “Being yourself—living out your dreams—is really hard. You have to push through the false parts of yourself in order to find what that truth is—and sometimes that requires a lot of bourbon.”