Thursday, September 13, 2012

If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet *

The title of this new play by the award-winning young British playwright Nick Payne could easily be my answer to the question "Is there a unifying theme that holds this play together?" The consequences of neglecting family for career is central, but the parents are both so emotionally constipated that it is unclear whether they are withholding affection for their daughter or simply have none to give. Brian F. O'Byrne plays George, a self-absorbed academic out to save the world from global warming with a book on carbon footprints. Michelle Gomez plays his wife Fiona, an unpopular teacher at the school where their overweight teenaged daughter Anna, played by Annie Funke, is regularly bullied. Jake Gyllenhaal plays George's prodigal brother Terry, a free spirit just returned from a long trip he took to get over a love affair that ended badly, who forms a bond with Anna. O'Byrne and Funke are excellent. I am no judge of British dialects, but Gyllenhaal's often impenetrable accent had no traces of American. At least every third word of his dialog is the F word. Gomez's character is underwritten, so she doesn't have a lot to work with. In this Roundabout production, directed by Michael Longhurst, now in previews at the Laura Pels, the scenic design by Beowulf Boritt literally upstages the play. Before the play begins, a curtain of rain separates the stage from the audience and center stage is occupied by a pile of household furnishings. As the play progresses, the actors grab the furnishings they need for the next scene. At scene's end they toss them into the trough. Is this a metaphor for the wastefulness of our way of life? About 2/3 of the way through the play, an onstage bathtub overflows and the stage is inundated in 3 or 4 inches of water. The actors pay no heed as they slosh around in it for the play's final 30 minutes. Does this represent our heedlessness to the rising sea levels that global warming will bring or is it just a distraction to hide the play's thinness? Decide for yourself. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes without intermission.

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