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9/20/12

If There Is, I Haven't Found it Yet - Gyllenhaal! And Gimmicks?


I would say, four times out of five, I walk into a theater, take my seat and time permitting, take a glance over the Playbill. Not so much at the Lauren Pels Theater, home to the now open production of If There Is, I Haven't Found It Yet. I took my seat and watched - I'm not kidding - the rain display that was happening just in front of the stage. Quarantined to an aquarium-esque fish tank, the rain just falls and falls; it's very pretty actually. One question...is there a point?

In related news, all of the props/furniture are compiled on stage like someone is ready to move in to a new place. Most of them get used and then, during the scene changes, get ditched into the aquarium/quarantine space by one of the characters. Dramatic and unique, yes? But again, is there a point?

Well, kind of...at least at the end, when If There Is... nuance starts to reveal itself.

Unfortunately, the lead-up to that point is filled with a lot of insipidness and things such as rainfall, flooding the stage with water (oh yeah, that happens) and ditching props are exactly what they are...gimmicks. They give the show an unexplained shot of adrenaline that is found in very few places. The show's central conflict revolves around an overweight teenage girl, complete with neglectful parents, as she struggles with bullying at her school and forms a bizarre connection with her flighty uncle. I am just saying, it should be more interesting then it was and most vignettes ended with me excited for a refrigerator or a couch to get pushed off stage. I can't even offer up an explanation or a reasoning; it was just that dull and the book and its characters kept spewing out generic fodder.

The only interest I mustered up started and ended with...well, the British accents came along from this England production transfer, so there was that at first. Because British accents are awesome; it needs to be said. But Sir Donnie Darko himself, Jake Gyllenhaal, is giving a fully-realized performance as the aloof and rebel-rousing uncle. When he's on stage, it's all about him and I perked up in my seat. He is the most animated character and gets the show's funniest lines - it is almost worth seeing the show just to catch a glimpse of his world class talent. Annie Funke, as highschooler Anna, offers some back-up and executes on one of the show's most disturbing and harrowing scenes, which you know what it is or will know when you see it.

The rest of it is mostly a pass, especially the scenes that don't involve Gyllenhaal's character. Anna's parents could not have been more lifelessly portrayed or had a more lackluster book to work with. I was dumbfounded watching any scene involving them meander on and on...it desperately needed more props to get chucked and maybe, knock an audience member unconscious. God knows that would have been exciting.

But when the ending comes around, the show serves up some memorability. The rainfall the audience watches is mimicked by the characters on stage...it represents life and our penchant for observation as opposed to action. And this is further relayed through the constant neglect displayed within the family - the parents repeatedly neglecting Anna, the uncle's neglect for responsibility, the characters walking around a flooded stage, but not acknowledging the water, etc...

All well and good - and I am not saying the staging was not dramatic (with some surprising thought integrated) - but the show has little going for it otherwise. If the show has something more to offer, I haven't found it yet.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus via Broadway.com & Bloomberg.com

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