by Nick Payne
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Featuring Jake Gyllenhall
A Production of the Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer

If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet by British dramatist Nick Payne is a very odd duck of a play. On the one hand, its characters are quirky and ill-fitting with each other; husband George (Brían F. O’Byrne), a global warming scholar too wedded to getting the word out and not wedded enough to his wife Fiona (Michelle Gomez), a teaching administrator in the school her teenage, conspicuously overweight and thus oft-ridiculed daughter Anna (Annie Funke) attends. Into their lives suddenly drops the biggest anomaly of all, George's stoner brother Terry (Jake Gyllenhall). And for quite a while, the play is content to throw this quartet into the dramaturgical shake-n-bake bag; and almost anything might happen as the interrelationships gradually flesh out. But then the oddest thing of all happens:

               If There Is, I Haven't Found It Yet becomes a fairly conventional play about a dysfunctional family groping their way toward function, understanding and ultimately greater love. And, even more surprising, it is when author Nick Payne settles into this groove that his play is at its most satisfying, because that's when the oddness of the characters finds its context. And though it's hard to pinpoint just how, it feels like a context too-long deferred; as if the playwright somehow didn't build the front end quite well enough to set up his permissions and to clue us in on the kind of evening we'd be spending. (Surprise is great; disorientation is not.)

               Clarity in this regard is not helped by director Michael Longhurst's staging. With the actors, his work is just fine, and all four are commensurately excellent; but he has imposed a water motif wherein a literal rainstorm effect initiates water used more symbolically and more prodigiously until, at the height of the intermissionless evening the playing surface is several inches awash with it. It's the kind of thematic illustration that pulls rather than enhances focus.

               But as imperfect an entry as If There Is… may be, it's also a pretty good one, by and large, and I'd say worth the time of a theatregoer wanting to sample work from one of the (reportedly/reputedly) hot young(ish) playwriting voices on the scene.

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