Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet at the Laura Pels Theatre is a seemingly simple four character dramedy set in Britain, but could be anywhere. The comedy part is like the comedy you’d encounter, in say, The Sea Gull by Chekov–individuals orbiting in their own sphere of isolation, befuddled in how to connect to those about them.
In this case, a family, simple and neat. George (Brian F. O’ Byrne) and Fiona (Michelle Gomez) are husband and wife, both teachers; they have a fifteen year old daughter, Anna (Anne Funke), and are visited by George’s brother, Terry (Jake Gyllenhaal, making his Off-Broadway debut.)
The bare bones of the plot consists of young Anna, fat and bullied, being suspended from school for fighting. She has transferred to her mother’s school in hopes things will improve. Terry, a bohemian traveler, arrives unannounced and sees the neglect that Anna’s parents have for her, and through him all the problems of their marriage, and their empty relationship with their daughter are magnified.
George, played by O’ Byrne, (Coast of Utopia, Doubt) is a dry, detached, emotionally stunted academic who cannot connect with his feelings, full of knowledge, but lacking in wisdom. Always pondering other worlds, he stutters and stammers, and lacks grace. He is writing a ponderous, depressing scientific tome on mankind’s carbon footprint on the planet, while at the same time oblivious to his own insensitivities. He clearly, myopically, doesn’t see the forest for the trees. He reminds us of the mid-eighteenth century argument against Rationalism, where people like Rousseau felt humankind could not rely solely on science to solve our problems; that only through heart, intuition, and feelings, mainly, could we become complete, i.e., enter the Romantic Poets. George, unfortunately, is one hundred-eighty degrees to the edge of this logic.
Fiona, his wife, is bored and detached in another way, and does little to understand her daughter or connect with George. She has given up, bleak and resigned, and has accepted the gulf between them quietly. Her role is underwritten, but she is referred to as the C-word twice by others.
Terry enters one day–skull cap, beard, hoodie, and rucksack. Dusty and tired from the road, he has returned to see his true love, Rachel, and win her over once more. But Rachel is now engaged to another and Terry is now left in his own personal agony, alongside Anna. Worldly, wise, and coarse, he tries in his own gruff way to mentor Anna, and give her sound, sweet advice. She listens to her uncle, but has an unfortunate lapse in youthful judgement, and bounds into a naive sexual encounter with an older boy. From here, things unwind further for her, almost fatally.
Michael Longhurst, the director, doesn’t dwell long on the scenes– it is not a long days journey. The play moves fast, ninety minutes, no intermission. Everything begins with the family in distress and spirals downward quickly till the end. The scenes are short, with the end of each encounter having characters hurling pieces of the set as a punctuation to the building chaos. The stage soon becomes a mess. When the play begins, there is a gentle scrim of water lightly falling at stage front that later, eventually develops into a veritable flood. Water then, becomes the fifth character, a silent narrator.
All the elements, a bad marriage, an alienated daughter, errant uncle, unfeeling parents–pretty ordinary stuff today. Nick Payne, the playwright, doesn’t care to analyze the malaise–he only presents his characters clearly, without sentimentally lingering. The characters are intelligent, well-educated, and have ethics, but are confused and dead inside. Neither George nor Fiona ever hug, kiss, joke, or laugh together, while Terry has no will, is defeated.
Jake Gyllenhaal does wonderfully as Terry. He has fun with his cockney accent and has charisma in his spunky acting. He loves his character and conveys Terry’s inner life with lots of feeling and range. As a movie star he makes the leap to stage with an ease that was fun to watch–the Laura Pels is a perfect showcase for this intimate play and character.
At the end, the stage is left a mess of water and flotsam–like the Titanic, mentioned earlier in the play.
A small group of people have been set adrift, separated, rescue impossible. Later, as George lectures at the University, he unintentionally digresses and ponders, “It’s not what must be done, but how to convince people to do it.” He is speaking about his ecological concerns, but he dimly understands the fingers are all pointing to himself.