Hollywood's Jake Gyllenhaal does not deliver a star turn in If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre. And that's a good thing. He is instead part of a solid ensemble of actors who breathe life into Nick Payne's quietly affecting drama.
The England-set play revolves around 15-year-old Anna (Annie Funke), a girl bullied by classmates due to her large size and the fact that her mother Fiona (Michelle Gomez) is one of the school's faculty members – and a seemingly disliked one, at that.
Both Fiona and husband George (Brían F. O'Byrne) are preoccupied with their respective jobs, and have little time for their daughter. And in fact, George's obsession over a book he's writing on the "carbon footprint of practically everything" not only affects his parenting, but is also causing serious disruptions in his marriage.
It's into this environment that George's brother Terry (Gyllenhaal) arrives. A drifter with anger issues and a proclivity for foul language, Terry is an unlikely role model for Anna. And yet, the two develop a friendship that is complexly drawn by the playwright, and well played by the actors who suggest the possible improprieties in the uncle-niece relationship in both subtle and overt fashion.
Gyllenhaal's hangdog expressions are endearing, and his charged rapport with Funke makes their characters' connection to one another both believable and unsettling. For her part, Funke displays a good mixture of bravado and vulnerability.
O'Byrne delivers a low-key, yet impassioned performance, and is particularly effective in the play's final monologue. Gomez's clipped speech patterns give her character a hard outer shell, but the actress also reveals a burning inner life that shines brightly in certain moments of the play.
Director Michael Longhurst has nicely calibrated the intensity of the characters' heightened exchanges so that they do not devolve into melodrama. However, he and scenic designer Beowulf Boritt have miscalculated their use of the admittedly striking set.
At the front of the stage is a pool of water that the actors dump furniture and other set pieces into when they are no longer to be used. Not only does this create splashes that occasionally wet those seated in the front row, but some of these objects are thrown in with such force that it seems like it would be very easy for a piece to unintentionally hit someone in the audience. And while there were no mishaps at the performance I attended, it's still a distraction that is completely unnecessary to the play, upsetting the balance of an otherwise fine production.
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