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A CurtainUp Review
If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet
By Elyse Sommer
If Gyllenhaal thought this would allow him to avoid Broadway's post-show crowds wanting to have their programs signed, the mob outside the Laura Pells the night I was there says otherwise. Neither should Gyllenhaal's fans expect him to be the indisputable star of If There Is I Haven't Found It aYet. Though his character is the catalyst that gets the plot boiling in Nick Payne's grammatically incorrect and awkwardly titled dark comedy this is not a star vehicle. Each character of the 4-member ensemble is equally important in establishing the dysfunctional mom-dad-daughter (Michelle Gomez, Brian E. O'Byrne, Annie Funke) and uncle (Gyllenhaal) as symbols of the state of the world.
Bryan O'Byrne's George is the play's often ludicrously amusing husband and dad. His head up in the clouds academic is so concerned about the damage resulting from our consumer society's carbon footprint, that he can't see that a holiday involving a plane trip is more important than his often ridiculous focus on planet saving. As his wife Fiona sees it, George's obsessive insistence on environmental correctness and time spent finishing a book called How Green Are Your Tomatoes? may help to keep the planet green, but it's making their marriage increasingly barren.
So we have George off in his own world, Fiona angry about his not being more in hers and distracted with her own career as a high school drama teacher. That leaves neither of them really attuned to their obese teenaged daughter's intense unhappiness. While Fiona recognizes Anna's vulnerability enough to transfer her to her own school, this has only exacerbated the girl's misery via heavy duty bullying from some of her classmates.
Enter into this fraught family set-up the box office ticket attraction, as George's younger brother Terry, a drifter who can't seem to stay in one place. Gyllenhaal's thick working class bloke accent is spot-on though too often hard to understand. His vocabulary is not just peppered with but dominated by the F-word. Yet his Terry is funny and appealing.
What's brought Terry back to his more educated brother's house is the torch he's carrying for Fiona's talked about but never seen cousin. Not that any rekindling of their romance is likely. Shenot only ditched Terry but is seeing someone else. His own heartbroken and unsettled status makes Terry keenly aware of his niece's misery and pay her some of the attention she so desperately needs. But while Terry is smart enough to see that Anna's big problem is parental neglect and misunderstanding, his own efforts help her turn out to be a mess that ends up doing more harm than good. He fails to realize that their kinship arouses Anna's sexuality and not only lets her persuade him to keep her date made over the internet a secret, but inappropriately arms her with a condom.
The aftermath ot Terry and Anna's kinship are catastrophic. The intermingling dysfunctions unravel through some devastatingly painful scenes, as well as some quite funny ones. A particularly hilarious episode sees George finally tries to get to know his daughter over a meal in an Indian restaurant.
While all the performances are good, it's Annie Funke's Anna who breaks your heart and Gyllenhaal's Terry who is Payne's most compelling and complex character. Gyllenhaal is eminently watchable as he navigates between his character's potty-mouthed surface and his deeper feelings of anger, empathy and yearning.
Beowulf Boritt's watery set can be taken as a visual symbol of a world drowning as a result of global warming, Her set pieces also smack of symbolism. At first everything is assembled into a heap at the center of the stage. That mountain of "Stuff" is reminiscent of a Shepardesque fight scene that's been cleaned up. Once O'Byrne has delivers the first of his excellent bookend monologue, the actors gradually pull chairs, tables, etc. from that assemblage as called for by the script. When the hauled out props are no longer needed, they're tossed into the water filled basin at the foot of the stage. This somewhat improvisational stage business is fascinating and a though it tends to compete for attention with the actors and even the play itself.
There's nothing terribly new about the problems explored, but so what, if they're as entertainingly presented and well acted as If There Is I Haven't Found it is. The question Payne's title seems to ask is "how to improve the way we live?" His answer, which really isn't an answer, is that it may just be best to start looking at meltdown dangers right in your own home.
To read a review of Nick Payen's most recent and much praised Constellation, also directed by Michael Longhurst, go here.
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