At one point in Michael Longhurst’s Roundabout production of If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, the promising new play by up-and-coming British writer Nick Payne, a character’s cell phone ringtone goes off, playing Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” It’s a fitting theme for this sensitive play, whose four family members all attempt to ward off an oncoming deluge of personal reckoning.
George (Brían F. O’Byrne), an academic consumed by his climate change research, fails to notice the shifting tectonics in his own household as his younger, estranged brother Terry (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives. He not only cannot see the distance his schoolteacher wife, Fiona (Michelle Gomez), feels he has put between them, but he is also unavailable to support his overweight daughter, Anna (Annie Funke), a target of teenage bullying and a confused, inquisitive soul when it comes to general teenage matters. Only Terry can truly see Anna, when his gaze isn’t glazed over by his own self-pity and substance abuse.
While Found echoes the premise of Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count On Me, in which the arrival of a wayward uncle opened a ripcord on domestic strife, the show has its own sense of personality and pacing, thanks both to Longhurst’s rhythms and to Payne’s acute ear for dialogue. Even the characters who talk a blue streak reveal more by what they are not saying. Structurally, however, it could benefit from further Lonergan study. Payne provides snippets of support for each of his play’s themes – global warming, being a teenage outcast, fraying family tissue – but just barely enough to entwine in one substantial double helix. For instance, Gomez and O’Byrne make palpably clear the distance between husband and wife (and that “Umbrella” scene is not the only one in which a cell phone plays a pivotal part), but Payne’s reasons for the marital discord feel a bit undernourished. Has Fiona ever expressed her frustrations to him? Has she ever tried to resolve their problems, rather than placing all blame on him?
Payne’s portrait of Anna is made of sturdier stuff, thanks mostly to Funke herself, who blends the right elements of diffidence, fear, anger and curiosity into a gorgeously insightful teen performance. Terry’s encouragement of Anna to not hide but claim her life is the central tie of the play, and Funke and Gyllenhaal create a unique bond for their floundering characters. (Both accents are spot-on, though Gyllenhaal struggles with some projection problems.) Gyllenhaal is also effective when opposite O’Byrne, suggesting just why these two brothers trekked disparate paths.
If part of the Joy of Found, however, is watching Anna and Terry come together, then part of the frustration is watching the actors tearing apart Beowulf Boritt’s set. By the end of the play, the Laura Pels stage takes a real beating, and I am not sure that Longhurst’s choices are dramatically fruitful. There is no need to spend the kind of budget and resources to throw furniture around in search of a coups de théâtre that ends up being more distracting than illuminating. Why run that expense when you already have a talented cast able to set off all the fireworks one needs?
If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet
Laura Pels Theater, 111 West 46th Street, Manhattan; (212) 719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org. Through Nov. 25.
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