Theater Review - If There Is... (NY)

I love clever titles. “If There Is I Have Not Found It Yet,”   a new play by Nick Payne playing at Laura Pels Theatre under the aegis of the Roundabout, piqued my interest.  Turns out, the title describes the way I feel about this bizarre water-flooded work. The playwright, who won the 2012 Harold Pinter Playwright's Award and is commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club to write a new play about math, science or technology, has cobbled together the following subjects: the terrible effects of global warming; the severe obesity of teenagers and the bullying because of it; suicide; and possible infidelity, all to create havoc on stage. It is directed by Michael Longhurst. (Set: Beowulf Boritt; Lighting Natasha Katz; Costumes Susan Hilferty.)    

 

Before the play begins, a rainfall pours down on the back of the stage. All the furniture and props needed for the play are piled high in the center of the stage. The actors pull off what they need when they need it. They use a chair or table or lamp, and when they are finished with it- they throw it into a trough filled with water running along the apron of the stage. At first, it is clever and surprising, then rather annoying and messy.

 

The setting is the home of Fiona and George, underplayed by the brilliant Brian F. O'Byrne, who gave an unforgettable performance as the priest in “Doubt” and who has won every theater award in existence. George is obsessed with writing a book about Global Warming, leaving his wife, Fiona, a teacher, to deal with problems concerning their 15 year old daughter, Anna, who has been suspended from school for fighting.  Michelle Gomez is sincere in the part of this beleaguered mother but did not project enough to be able to hear her. Annie Funke, who is an alumna of the School at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre and holds a BFA in Musical Theater from University of Oklahoma, is convincing as this very heavy young woman locked in her own world of suffering. It is understandable that Anna would develop a crush on Terry, her rebellious uncle, a wanderer who listens to her when others do not.  Jake Gyllenhaal, the popular movie star, creates a believable character as Terry, whose every other word is an expletive.

 

Anna's foray into internet dating sends her to the bathtub to do away with herself; as she is sinking into the water, the water spills over, gathers momentum, and becomes a lake which covers the stage. From that moment, the actors must wade ankle-deep, while completing the story. Anna survives, and we are left wondering: Is this the polar ice-cap melting?          

  

I noted strange similarities to other plays I have seen recently: in” Russian Transport,” the daughter falls in love with her mother's abusive brother; in “Dogfight,” pudgy Rose strips to her underwear like Annie; in “Once,” the two protagonists walk up high on a wall very much like the one here in “If There Is, I Have Not Found It Yet.” 

 

As we exited the theater, there were hundreds of people lined up in layers to see Jake Gyllenhaal.  I am sure they did not know or care about the other actors.  Pity!!!  

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