The raw pain of a teenage girl is not an easy thing to witness, and scribe Nick Payne makes no attempt to sugarcoat the anguish in his blistering domestic drama, “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.” But a compassionate production from ardent director Michael Longhurst — one with committed perfs from selfless thesps Jake Gyllenhaal, Brian F. O’Byrne, and Michelle Gomez and a brave turn from young Annie Funke — can provide the dubious comfort of a bloodletting.
British wunderkind Nick Payne (whose award-winning “Constellations” is about to transfer to the West End) can’t claim originality for penning yet another dysfunctional family drama about yet another set of self-absorbed parents with their heads so far up their butts they’re oblivious to the misery of their own suffering offspring. But passion counts for plenty, and there’s plenty to go around in this bitter little narrative about a grossly overweight (not so gross by American standards, but hey) girl named Anna, played by baby Yank thesp Funke with a badly bruised soul and a killer of a British accent, who has become the punching bag of the bullies at her school.
Anna is not only physically fat and mentally sluggish, but sullen and emotionally withdrawn — not the most endearing qualities in a kid so desperately in need of parental affection and concern. For all the character’s neediness, Funke asks for nothing, expects nothing, and takes it all on the chin in a performance that would have a less committed thesp gasping for a breath of air.
And where, pray tell, are Anna’s parents in all this? They’re pathologically distracted by the detritus of their lives — a huge pile of junk that is picked off, one bulky piece at a time, after each scene, to be tossed into a deep watery trough that stretches across the full length of the stage. The symbolism is more than a bit obvious in director Longhurst’s production, but effective for all that.
Big daddy George, in a drop-dead-brilliant turn by O’Byrne, is the character with the most baggage, a fanatical environmentalist consumed by the book he’s writing about the deadly impact of the human-generated garbage choking the natural environment. It’s an astonishing perf, and absolutely terrifying for the distance it puts between this stupid man and his neglected child.
Anna’s mother, Fiona, in an equally breathless perf from English stage stalwart Michelle Gomez, is no less oblivious. A teacher who had Anna transferred to her own school, presumably to keep the girl under her wing, this self-absorbed mother has the temerity to question the authenticity of the child’s experiences.
The only person with the slightest inkling of what it feels like to be an outcast like Anna is George’s younger brother, Terry, a jumped-up, juiced-up, totally screwed-up good-for-nothing with the good sense to know that he’s good for nothing. Terry has a keen and incredibly snide sense of humor as far as his brother is concerned. “How about weed?” he asks, when George delivers one of his endlessly boring lectures about the environmental impact of petrol and cheeseburgers and lattes and everything else under the sun. “What’s the carbon footprint of a joint?”
No wonder Anna loves her bad-boy uncle, as do we all. They speak the same language because they feel the same pain. In Gyllenhaal’s wonderfully manic, crazy-like-a-fox perf, it’s fairly obvious that Terry, no less than Anna, is one of those endangered species being pushed off the edge of the planet. Unless, of course, they manage to spit out the indigestible garbage that people like George keep trying to shove down their throats.