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NY Theater Reviews

Jake Gyllenhaal and Brian F. O’Byrne/ Ph: Joan Marcus

AN ODD CHOICE

By MATT WINDMAN

The star power of Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t change the fact that this is a dull play.

Jake Gyllenhaal, what were you thinking?

Highly bankable film stars who willingly appear on or off Broadway can choose virtually any stage project. So it’s surprising when someone with so many opportunities available chooses to appear in a total dud.

When Julia Roberts played Broadway back in 2006, she took a lot of flak for choosing Richard Greenberg’s gentle but uninteresting ensemble piece Three Days of Rain. But that play is practically a masterpiece compared to If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, a dreadful 90-minute domestic drama with an even more dreadful title.

Seeing as 28-year-old English playwright Nick Payne is barely known in this country, one can’t help but wonder if the Roundabout Theatre Company, which specializes in tried-and-true revivals, produced the play because Gyllenhaal wanted to do it. It’s hard to envision any other reason why the company would have presented it.

This dysfunctional family-themed play lacks a cohesive plot and lingers on endlessly for 90 minutes. It observes an academic obsessed with climate change (Brian F. O’Byrne), a tough teacher (Michelle Gomez), an overweight bullied teen (Annie Funke) and her heartfelt but idiotic uncle (Gyllenhaal), who is little more than an aimless tattooed drifter.

If not much else, the play observes the bonding between niece and uncle as the young girl spirals into a violent depression, which climaxes in an especially graphic scene.

Michael Longhurst’s elaborate and extremely overdone production is marked by the extremely heavy use of water. In Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design, the stage is surrounded by tanks of water, into which the cast occasionally pours set pieces. At one point, the entire stage is flooded. Perhaps it’s meant to be symbolic?

Gyllenhaal easily blends into his thick-accented, heartbroken but consistently jovial character, while Funke presents a raw, often-harrowing portrait of a lonely and emotionally abused young girl. Their bonding is somewhat touching. But if there was much more of a point to If There Is … well, I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps the play should have premiered with a less-starry cast in a less ornate production.