Theater archives

Jake Gyllenhaal Stars in Nick Payne’s Roundabout Play


Dear Mother Earth: I think you should be alerted to the fact that a lot of water is currently being wasted on the stage of the Laura Pels Theatre. It’s all because of this really dull and predictable play, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, by Nick Payne, who seems to think that global warming is caused by parents not being able to talk to their kids. Or maybe he thinks that the parents’ inability is caused by global warming. I’m not at all sure.

Anyway, it’s really very earnest and slow-moving, with a lot of long silences. The dialogue insists on being hyper-naturalistic, with all the pauses and repetitions and silences that people use in ordinary conversation. These take up a lot of stage time. The parents (Brían F. O’Byrne and Michelle Gomez) are both supposed to be educated people, but they don’t talk to each other, any more than they talk to their 15-year-old daughter, Anna (Annie Funke), an overweight and obviously emotionally troubled kid whom you would think educated people might be concerned about. But her father’s fixated on global warming, and her mother’s busy teaching, at the same school Anna goes to. Anna has been suspended for two weeks, because she got into a fight with another girl who called her mother a rude name. Even that doesn’t make her parents sit down to discuss her problems.

Conveniently for the playwright’s schedule, Anna’s uncle Terry (Jake Gyllenhaal), her father’s younger brother, drops in. A less-educated drifter, but good-hearted, Terry tries to make things better, but of course ends up making them worse. It rains a lot, and thanks to Michael Longhurst’s artsy production, the rain in Payne stays mainly on the stage.

And that’s why you should be concerned, Mother Nature. Payne at least seems to be a serious craftsmen. His people are dull and unconvincing, but he shows some concern for them, and he does try to give their banal dialogue maximal accuracy. All four actors work hard to be accurate, too. But Longhurst makes them drag out the pace, and he indulges in currently chic tricks like having them toss the furniture aside when a scene ends. And the water keeps building up onstage. By the time we get to the climactic suicide by drowning, it’s pretty sloshy up there. (I admit I had a moment of wicked fun at the curtain call, watching the cast step so cautiously through the puddles as they exited.) Given the massive droughts elsewhere in the U.S., couldn’t you arrange to shut down this production and reship the water where it might do some good? Yours for greener pastures,