It looks as if a natural disaster hit the stage of the Laura Pels Theatre. Beowulf Boritt’s set of chairs, tables and other furniture is piled high in the center—blown there, or shored up by frantic survivors? And what’s with the trough of water at the edge of the stage—are we expecting a flood? Not far into Nick Payne’s brutally honest and tender family tale If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, you realize that the cause of this disorder isn’t a hurricane, but rather a man-made catastrophe. Using set changes that are both practical and neatly metaphoric, director Michael Longhurst shows that sometimes people with the highest ideals make the biggest messes.
In fact, humanity’s environmental impact totally consumes university professor George (Brían F. O’Byrne), husband to tightly wound schoolteacher Fiona (Michelle Gomez) and father to withdrawn, obese teenager Anna (Annie Funke). George works ceaselessly on a book about society’s carbon footprint, but he can’t see the muddy tracks all over his own household: Fiona is coldly estranged, and Anna burns angrily from neglect. When Terry (Jake Gyllenhaal), George’s sweet but chronically screwed-up brother, comes to stay, it’s the catalyst that upends the household. Terry rashly emboldens Anna to put herself out there and meet boys, even if he can’t get over his own past romantic failures. The poor girl finds herself crushed between adults of varying emotional stupidity. She has no role models, only examples of what not to do.
Gyllenhaal is making his New York stage debut here, and it’s a beaut. Perfectly nailing a London drawl and exuding an air of rumpled, unwashed profanity leavened by flashes of wit and boyish ardor, he renders Terry an utterly vivid, laddish mensch. The cast surrounding Gyllenhaal is equally sensational, even though there’s no need to bolster the film star. Gomez is all weary, pinched compromise, and as the plus-size outcast, Funke earns our sympathy without resorting to cuteness or pathos. O’Byrne, too long absent from New York, gives a magnificently balanced performance. Gentle yet obtuse, deeply moral but impotent, his stammering George is a man who stands to gain the world, but could lose his family. The ending of this stirring, humane, insightful work suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t have to choose.—David Cote
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