If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet

by Nick Payne
Directed by Michael Longhurst

Featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Brian F. O’Byrne
Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street
September 20, 2012 (opening) — November 25, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 19, 2012

  • “Once you’re known as the girl who tried to kill herself, people tend to leave you alone.”
(L-R) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Gomez, Annie Funke (seated), Brian F. O’Byrne. Image by Joan Marcus.

Families, carbon footprints, a set composed of piled pieces assembled and disassembled and cast aside, washed through by a metaphorical and perhaps literal flood of emotions. Strong ensemble performances in  a contemporary family drama. This is the play with the almost indecipherable title If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. What we have found at the Laura Pels Theatre is a nifty piece of carefully wrought theatre.

Playwright Nick Payne examines bullying of various forms: an adolescent girl Anna (Annie Funke) is bullied for her weight and the fact her mother Fiona (Michelle Gomez) works at her school; a distant father George (Brian F. O’Byrne) is obsessed with his research on the environment and our individual and social carbon footprints — and is in fact a bit of a bully with his family and their own choices; George’s estranged and militantly nonconformist younger brother Terry (Jake Gyllenhaal) makes a surprise visit in a pause in an adult life making himself unavailable through world travel and living off the grid, punishing his brother for events long in the past. O’Byrne’s George is soft-spoken and tightly wound, with a sensational and a-typical stutter.  Gyllenhaal’s iconoclastic Terry is more overtly emotional, yet full of his own shades and nuances and pains and surprises. Funke as daughter Anna, whose issues in part bring all the characters together gives and solid and resonant performance that rises above the strident adolescent screed, and Gomez’s Fiona is loving, layered, and rich.

Smart writing that poses more questions than answers, parsimonious interactions, a fascinating set design that begins in a rain shower, works through settings constructed by the actors themselves as if in a rehearsal room out of a pile of possible cast off pieces. Water permeates this play as a theme that perhaps builds, global warming wise, upon George’s environmental monomania, or simply reflects the visceral and physical nature of the play’s events that build to a breaking point with one character in a bathtub.  Water washing, flowing, cleansing.

Direction by Michael Longhurst is elegant and flowing, as is the puzzle of a set contrived by Beowulf Boritt.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 22, 2012)

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