Wednesday, October 3, 2012
The reviews keep coming
Doing a bit of a catch up on theater-related items that have gotten lost in the flood for End of Watch news and promotion.
The first review is mine! I finally got a chance to see Jake Gyllenhaal in his American stage debut last weekend. Jake's performance was top-notch: He nails the accent, the mannerisms and the attitude of Terry, a lost soul who stops battling his own demons for a short time in order to help his niece fight hers. And maybe help them both grow up.
Terry's reformation doesn't last, but his impact on the family does. And on the play. The show comes to life with his arrival and lags a bit when he's offstage for a brief time towards the end.
Jake's Terry is immature, angry, funny, dark, rude, bold and cowardly, crude and compassionate. Totally charming. And really profane. He sets off an explosion in this family but doesn't stick around to repair the damage. He sees that his niece needs help and offers it, in his own way. But he can't move past his own fear and anger, so he bails. He knows he shouldn't but he can't bring himself to change enough to help for the long haul.
Jake handles the fast-paced, elliptical dialogue perfectly. He seems totally at ease on the stage, even as his character is a ball of nerves. And he has great chemistry with all of the actors. He and Brian O'Byrne seem like brothers. And Jake and Annie Funke sparkle in scenes ranging from tough to tender to tense. Like the audience, Anna is happier when Terry is around.
The play is funny, poignant and disturbing. But it's not quite as thought-provoking as it wants to be. The set design is clever, with the actors moving props from the center of the stage to set up scenes, then tossing various bits into a trough at the foot of the stage.
That metaphors and conflicts may not be original, but they are legitimate: Grown-ups who pay too much attention to the world around them and not enough to their own house; a child who is finally seen and heard by someone who recognizes her pain but can't overcome his own long enough to help her.
It's an old, familiar story brought to new life by four impressive actors, especially Jake and Annie. I'm happy I got to know their story.
We'll move on to professional reviews!
The New Yorker:
As Gyllenhall superbly plays him, Terry is a bearded, feral soul, who sidles into view in a gray knit cap and a yellow T-shirt, at once heartbroken and hapless. "I, I. I fuck things up. And it makes me mad," he says. He's full of good intentions and bad advice. (He suggests to Anna that she tells her school tormentor "that if she gives you any more grief, I'll be taking shit on her doorstep for the next month and a half.") He can't mobilize thought; he is cluless--a state that is betrayed by his syntax. His sentences, like his life, have no direction or resolution. "Prb'ly shoulda rung or something, but," he says when he sees Anna (whom he addresses as "Hannah") for the first time. "Phone was fucked and I thought, by the time I've arsed around getting change for the fucking. You know the phone, and that, thought I might as well just."
It is clear this family is sinking, but not until George's wandering, ne'er do well brother Terry (Gyllenhaal) appears for an unexpected visit that they realize just how deep of a mess they are in. Sporting an authentic working class British accent, Gyllenhaal gives Terry a charmingly well-meaning, slightly bewildered manner that juxtaposes George's buttoned-up professor personality in a very entertaining way. On paper it would be difficult to believe these two are related but this duo of talented actors give them an authentic connection. (As George expounds on his book and how he hopes it will change the world, Terry interrupts with the question, "What's the carbon footprint of a joint?" George does not laugh.) ...
Even though some meanings of the play were not quite clear -- the title, for example -- it is a poignant and powerful show with an especially strong cast. One hopes to see all of them, including Gyllenhaal, in more stage productions soon.
New York Magazine:
Jake Gyllenhaal, it turns out, is a stage actor of innate instinct: Whether he’s delivering a laugh line, getting lost in playwright Nick Payne’s trademark ellipses, or tossing furniture into the Plexiglas sluice director Michael Longhurst has attached to the lip of the stage, Gyllenhaal displays the intuitive understanding of theater-space — its exact dimensions and tolerances — that eludes so many film actors. He’s in perfect communication with hundreds of people while maintaining perfect intimacy with his scene partners. Not bad for a newbie. ...
But If There Is is a young, tender, exploratory play, and ultimately, it takes refuge in the same paralyzed bourgeois mildness its characters are smothering under. The flood comes — quite literally, thanks to some impressive, if slightly cumbersome onstage waterworks — and we still end up swaddled in cozy, prime-time-drama what-can-you-do-but-love-each-other comfort.
New York Press:
Payne’s portrait of Anna is made of sturdier stuff, thanks mostly to Funke herself, who blends the right elements of diffidence, fear, anger and curiosity into a gorgeously insightful teen performance. Terry’s encouragement of Anna to not hide but claim her life is the central tie of the play, and Funke and Gyllenhaal create a unique bond for their floundering characters. (Both accents are spot-on, though Gyllenhaal struggles with some projection problems.) Gyllenhaal is also effective when opposite O’Byrne, suggesting just why these two brothers trekked disparate paths.
This is Jake's American stage debut, and he's very effective, using lots of physicality for the stoner character, plumbing the guy's awkward well-meaning quality and potentially darker instincts as he reconnects with his bullied niece (Annie Funke).
If he were some unknown, Jake's definitely the kind of actor about whom you'd say, "Wow, he should be a movie star."
And he's competing with all the elements here.
Throughout the play, the cast throws pieces of furniture into a canal in front of the stage, and by the end--as you may have heard--the water seeps onto the stage as O'Byrne wonders, "Are we worth saving if we're not prepared to change?"
Yes--if Jake Gylenhaal is part of the human race.
Reviewing the Drama:
I like the production more than I like the play. The play is good. It’s well-written, but it’s a fairly typical family drama. It doesn’t explore any new familial territory, there’s no new insight and the climax is a little predictable - especially if you are paying attention to details throughout. (Although, I do like the environmental slant.) But the production is fascinating, especially the scenic design (by Beowulf Boritt) and direction. Terry is a tempest; he comes in with this reckless abandon and pollutes the environment - he starts throwing everything he’s “finished with” in the water. Anna starts following suit. But the water can only hold so much before the flood. And like the cagey, irresponsible loner that he is, Terry leaves after wrecking everything but before getting his feet wet - literally. ...
PS - The buzz surrounding this show is, not surprisingly, all about Jake Gyllenhaal. It was a treat to watch him as he finally had some meat to sink his teeth in to. Gyllenhaal is a more talented actor than some of his film roles have allowed him to showcase. (Moonlight Mile, Donnie Darko and Jarhead were fantastic. Prince of Persia - not so much.) Here, he excels at walking the fine line between comedy and drama, creepy inappropriateness and touching, sincere care. It’s also a generous performance. Gyllenhaal doesn’t grandstand or try to use movie star bravado to overpower any of his fellow actors. Terry does, but not Gyllenhaal. His performance is nuanced and graceful, and ensures he’ll be welcomed back on the boards any time.
A total pan from Rex Reed in the NY Observer.
Catch up on post-play photos:
Jake and Brían O'Byrne backstage with K'naan:
Jake and Brían at the Global Citizen Festival on Saturday:
"it took every girl around us 20 mins to figure out what we already knew. haha"
Caricature by Paul Thurlby for The New Yorker.