If There is I Haven't Found it Yet

If There is I Haven’t Found it Yet is an interesting, layered family drama, if slightly predictable. In its US premiere, Nick Payne’s play is sharply directed by Michael Longhurst and boasts a talented foursome, including Jake Gyllenhaal in his New York stage debut. (He’s previously appeared on stage in the West End.)

The storm clouds have been gathering for quite some time in 15-year old Anna’s (an impressive Annie Funke) home. And though it’s raining (literally; in place of a curtain, rain falls into a well at the foot of and spanning the length of the stage), nothing really gets going until Anna’s uncle, Terry (Gyllenhaal), arrives. Somewhat estranged from his brother George (the reliable Brian F. O’Byrne) and sister-in-law Fiona (Michelle Gomez), the reentry period can only be described as awkward, but Terry quickly forms a bond with his niece.  

Anna is overweight and is being bullied at school, but one could argue that she is also being bullied at home, courtesy of her parent’s neglect. Dad George is busy writing what Anna calls a “bible” on people’s carbon footprint (George prefers the term “manifesto”). He’s always preaching conservation and preservation - at one point, he asks the (unseen) students he’s lecturing what or whom is worthy of preserving; he’s all about preserving the Environment, but he can’t seem to find time to tend to his environment - his home life. 

Fiona is also distracted, struggling with her absent husband, an ailing mother and an overload at work. (Fiona is a teacher at Anna’s school.) Neither she nor George make the time to truly connect with their daughter, making it easy for Uncle Terry to swoop in and forge a relationship with Anna.  

I like the production more than I like the play. The play is good. It’s well-written, but it’s a fairly typical family drama. It doesn’t explore any new familial territory, there’s no new insight and the climax is a little predictable - especially if you are paying attention to details throughout. (Although, I do like the environmental slant.) But the production is fascinating, especially the scenic design (by Beowulf Boritt) and direction. Terry is a tempest; he comes in with this reckless abandon and pollutes the environment - he starts throwing everything he’s “finished with” in the water. Anna starts following suit. But the water can only hold so much before the flood. And like the cagey, irresponsible loner that he is, Terry leaves after wrecking everything but before getting his feet wet - literally.  

Unlike Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet, in If There is I Haven’t Found it Yet, after the rain there’s a mess. But in Nick Payne’s play, after the flood there’s a chance for a new beginning. Anna wears rain boots - she’s the only one to do so - because now she knows how to protect herself. George and Fiona reconsider their principles and priorities. And Terry is still flailing, trying to find it, but on dry land. 

(PS - The buzz surrounding this show is, not surprisingly, all about Jake Gyllenhaal. It was a treat to watch him as he finally had some meat to sink his teeth in to. Gyllenhaal is a more talented actor than some of his film roles have allowed him to showcase. (Moonlight Mile, Donnie Darko and Jarhead were fantastic. Prince of Persia - not so much.) Here, he excels at walking the fine line between comedy and drama, creepy inappropriateness and touching, sincere care. It’s also a generous performance. Gyllenhaal doesn’t grandstand or try to use movie star bravado to overpower any of his fellow actors. Terry does, but not Gyllenhaal. His performance is nuanced and graceful, and ensures he’ll be welcomed back on the boards any time.) 

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