I went to New York to interview Jake Gyllenhaal, and was able to watch Nick Payne’s British drama, “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” brought to you by the Roundabout Theater Company. I should start by saying that I am not an avid fan of contemporary plays, so I am not the best judge of quality. I am reviewing this play from the perspective of a movie-goer.
“If There Is” is about a family in crisis. The father, George (played by Brían F. O’Byrne) is consumed by his mission to fight for the cause of Global Warming by publishing a book to educate people on how to reduce their carbon footprint. The mother, Fiona (Enid Graham), is a teacher struggling to connect with her overweight fifteen-year-old daughter, Anna (Annie Funke), whom she has transferred over to her school in hopes of better protecting her from callous bullies. A rogue family member, Terry (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is George’s younger vagabond and unkempt brother, appears out of the blue for reasons I am still uncertain of, and acts as a sort of catalyst in the sinking of the family ship. This metaphor is depicted throughout the play through Titanic references, and with the actual flooding of the stage.
It takes a lot courage and skill to be on stage, and to recite pages of scripts before an audience of paying customers, so I admire and respect all actors. However, I have never been much of a fan of theater acting. It always looks so rehearsed, calculated, and fake. The pauses in dialogue are unnatural. The poses and moving around the stage are so choreographed. I much prefer seeing realistic portrayals of people in movies and documentaries, with all their awkwardness and lack of poise. This is why I thought Jake Gyllenhaal stole the show. Unlike most actors, Jake went into screen acting at an early age without any prior theater acting and extensive training. He developed his acting skills without the “bad habits” I’ve noticed theater actors to have when they cross over to the big screen. On stage, Jake delivered a “real person” performance and it was refreshing to see. He was a person up on that stage, a real-life character who performs like one at all times. I felt a stark difference between the authenticity of his realistic portrayal and the very archetypal staged performances given by the other actors.
Annie Funke also delivered a very brave and realistic performance. She brought the right amount of distress, anger and frustration, and at times tempered humility to the character. Her character even undresses at a moment, and has to act out scenes that are not that easy to do without looking like a caricature. I really connected with her character, and say hats off to Annie.
The symbolism was creatively executed. As I mentioned earlier, there were many references to the Titanic, such as the theme song playing in certain scenes and an actual mentioning of the film. Water is present throughout the whole play, which starts off with rain pouring down at the front of the stage, into transparent tanks lining the edges like a moat. During the play, most of the set props are hurled into the moat. As part of the front row, I got splashed a few times. I suggest you pack an umbrella or raincoat if you plan to sit in the front. Near the end of the show, the stage itself gets flooded and the actors continue performing in ankle-high waters. There is even a “beach” scene at the end. I believe the use of water and the sinking ship reference were representations of the family, sinking into despair and becoming increasingly fragmented and pulled apart, like the wreckage of a ship.
Saving the World seems more important to George than saving his own family. However, when he comes to this realization, he really tries to the best of his ability to be there for them, to be relevant to them. The mother’s character was pretty weak, I would say. I have already mentioned in my movie review for The Tree of Life how much I cannot stand portrayals of weak women. She never seemed in control of any situation, be it her marriage, Terry coming into her home unannounced, her relationship with her daughter, and so on. I also felt she only really started trying hard to connect with Anna was after a pivotal incident. The family went through something and was given a “second chance;” I do not want to spoil it by revealing anything.
Terry clearly has commitment issues and lives an unconventional and messy life, as illustrated by his disheveled, bearded appearance, his jumpy, jittery, almost drug addict-like mannerisms, and his muddy British slang. Nevertheless, since he is in no way a poser. He is the only one who manages to be real and honest with Anna, who gets through to her and makes a connection with her. This could also explain why Jake’s performance was so realistic compared to the stage-like performances of the parents. They were “posers,” caught up with acting like adults and proper people, while Terry was himself, a genuine person with no front, no shame, flaws and all.
The evolution of Anna and Terry’s relationship was a bit… awkward but rational. At first, he is a stranger who cannot even seem to remember her name correctly. Then they grow close and bond. Since Anna felt she could confide in him, and since he was the first male presence in her life to actually show genuine care and concern for her, she developed romantic and sexual feelings for him. This is quite expected of a teenage girl trying to come to terms with her insecurities and her developing desires. Since it never goes too far, the hint of incest was clever and used tastefully.
The show will be performed until the end of December, and many times are already sold out. Here is a little tip for those who are worried about grabbing the last undesirable seats. When it is time for the show to start, the ushers close the doors and do not let anyone else in. If you go on a “slow day,” or during a matinee, there will most likely be empty seats in the front. The ushers let those in the back know that they are allowed to fill the front seats, which is how I got my front-row seat. The play is about 90 minutes long with no intermission, and with all the water it can get pretty chilly in there so you might want to have a sweater o you. For more scheduling information and details of the play, visit the “If There Is” Webpage on the Roundabout Theater Co. website.