Wednesday, October 10, 2012

theatre review IF THERE IS I HAVEN'T FOUND IT YET, Off Broadway, September 22

Nick Payne's new play If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet is having it's US premiere Off Broadway in a stellar production head lined by Jake Gyllenhaal who is making his NY stage debut.  Telling the modern day story of a family at the breaking point, Payne's play is not only one that accurately and effectively speaks to current headlines but when combined with an excellent set design and direction rises to an even higher level.

The threat of both teenage bullies and global warming have been hot topics in the news for the past few years.  Payne combines both of these headline makers to tell the story of a family with an overweight fifteen year old daughter, Anna, who has been bullied at the school where her mother works.   Anna's father is an environmentalist who is so concerned about the threat to the earth that he completely misses the threat that is making his daughter feel alone and the distance that is potentially breaking up his family.  When the father's younger estranged brother shows up out of the blue, Anna finds herself with someone who she believes finally understands her but he too has own troubles.  

Annie Funke and Jake Gyllenhaal
Set in London, If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet is both an interesting story of a family in crisis as well as one that shows how our preoccupation with various things can get in the way of us not only being able to properly communicate with each other but to also miss important issues that need immediate attention.  I found the play both completely realistic in the subject matter and the way that each character spoke differently from each other but also in how it takes modern issues and shows both the comical and dramatic sides of them.

The cast is simply excellent.  As the brooding, somewhat violent and outspoken Uncle, Gyllenhaal has the appropriate blend of intensity and compassion, especially when he realizes how lost Anna is and how her parents aren't giving her the direction and attention she needs.  Annie Funke as Anna is the girl we've all seen before, the overweight teenager who gets bullied for her weight, tries to be funny to overcome the hurt but is lost and all alone inside.  Funke is the one who has to keep her emotions at a fairly consistent and high level and to not let them get too melodramatic and the scenes she has with Gyllenhaal, who she basically sees as her "white knight" are both touching and heartbreaking.  The fact that she is holding her own with this powerhouse cast says a lot. 

Brian F. O'Byrne and Michelle Gomez
Brian F. O'Byrne is the father, and at first I didn't care that much for him, but I quickly realized that was the point, as he was perfectly playing the distant, self obsessed parent who is trying to "save" the wrong thing and in doing so tries as best as he can to stay away from the real issues at home.  There is a passion and intensity in O'Byrne's portrayal that makes you understand his devotion as well as his reluctance to deal with the issues at home. Michelle Gomez as the mother is also spot on in her portrayal of a woman who grew up and doesn't really know her place in the world anymore.   The frustration she exhibits, sometimes even with just a look or by simply being silent is perfect.  With a distant husband and a lost child she thinks the only thing she can do is to tell her daughter to stay the course while she focuses on overseeing the student production of War of the Worlds, a title not lost on the overall theme of the play.  Dysfunction is clearly at the center of this story and while all of these characters aren't perfect, all four actors have you rooting for them to overcome their obstacles and succeed.

Annie Funke and Jake Gyllenhaal
The play begins with an intense rainfall coming down into a trough at the front of the stage in a continual sheet of water.   This theatrical use of water is something that director Michael Longhurst and scenic designer Beowulf Boriff will use throughout the play to its fullest extent.  Anna's father is writing a book all about reducing carbon footprints and the impact of global warming.  So, the use of water is an interesting one it that it so clearly shows both the impact of the melting ice caps as well as literally showing how this one family is drowning from the issues that they are confronted with.   Subtle it might not be, but theatrical it is, and when a torrent of rain comes down like a tsunami toward an emotional event in the latter half of the show you can literally hear gasps in the audience.  Added to the use of water is the use of set pieces.  When the play begins there is a large mound of furniture in the center of the stage.  As each scene unfolds the actors will pull the required furniture from the mound and when the scene is over they will discard the props or furniture into the trough of water at the front of the stage.  I took this to show the disposable nature of the world as well as to show the rising water that will eventually take us over, as each time something is tossed in the trough, the water line gets higher and higher.   While the use of water might seem gimmicky, I found it refreshing in many ways, including the end result of it seeming like the water cleansed the four characters and has now allowed them to move on with their lives.

So, if you're looking to see an A list Hollywood star in an exceptional play that includes some very interesting theatrical moments and four excellent performances, don't miss If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet which is playing Off Broadway through November 25th.

Official Show Site

Interviews with the cast and creative team:

Highlights from the show and opening night interviews:

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