Victoria Trestrail, playing the role of Lottie Lark with great effect, sings the song in the demo below. Lottie is apologizing to her landlady, Mrs. Hauser.
The second time “Can You Forgive” is taken up, it is when Blood realizes he has wronged Lottie by taking her children. So after experiencing what it was like to ask for forgiveness, Lottie soon receives a heartfelt apology from the Debt Collector himself. Kelly Clear gives a grand performance as a penitent Blood.
Apologizing does not come naturally to everyone, even when they do realize that they have been wrong. Siren, the social worker, requires some coaching before she catches on.
But even with coaching, Siren is not a quick study.
Eventually, though, Siren finds it in her heart to apologize to Blood. Erin Royall Carlson plays Siren as she sings this tender mea culpa.
Even though this song is called “Can You Forgive”, it is not about how to forgive. It is about how to apologize. The reason the words are “can you forgive” is because forgiveness is not something to be taken for granted or demanded. Sometimes people can’t forgive, and the person who apologizes needs to accept this. An apology does not give you some kind of automatic right to forgiveness.
So often today, when one person owes another an apology, there is this assumption that if only a formal apology were to issue, then forgiveness is a foregone conclusion. But true forgiveness is a spontaneous reflex that comes of its own — we can’t feel true forgiveness unless the situation is right. One of the prerequisites to a genuine, spontaneous impulse of forgiveness is a genuine, spontaneous display of contrition. And sometimes even that is not enough. And that’s okay.
People often apologize for the wrong reasons. Somebody may be giving them a hard time, and the apology is seen as a way to appease that person. Or they want something, and the apology is their way to get what they want.
By the same token, many displays of forgiveness are also fake. People have been told that anger is bad for their health. They are afraid of getting cancer. They don’t want to be bad people. Many religions even put pressure on believers to forgive when the other person has not repented. So people pretend to forgive, because they are ashamed or afraid to admit that they cannot.
In the many verses of “Can You Forgive”, different characters in the play, at different points in the action, suddenly come to spontaneously apologize, once they realize how wrong they have been. They do not apologize in order to get something. They do not apologize in order to make an impression on someone else. They apologize because they realize that they have been wrong, and they need to get this off their chest.
Only Siren, the social worker, does not know how to apologize. She keeps making excuses instead. So Carl Lark, the welfare father, teachers her how to apologize.
Apologizing is a very ancient practice. It predates humans and human language. Chimpanzees apologize, too.
A chimpanzee apology consists of two parts:
1) I’m sorry I hurt you
2) Please forgive me.
A human apology, because there are so many misunderstandings among humans, and because the way we hurt each other can be so complicated, is often somewhat more complex. Here is what it consists of in The Debt Collector:
1) I now realize that I hurt you and I was wrong.
2) Here is a description of what I did and how it hurt you.
3) I am sorry and ashamed that I behaved this badly.
4) I really wish you could forgive me.
5) However, you don’t have to forgive me. You owe me nothing.
The last part, about not owing anyone forgiveness, would have gone without saying before certain religions and certain social and psychological theories shifted things around and made the victims of every wrongful act feel guilty for resenting what was done to them. One of the aims of The Debt Collector is to undo that trend.