The American premiere of Nick Payne's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, featuring Annie Funke, Michelle Gomez, Tony Award winner Brían F. O'Byrne and Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal as a drifter uncle, opens Sept. 20 following previews from Aug. 24 at Off-Broadway's Laura Pels Theatre.
Michael Longhurst (making his New York debut) directs the Roundabout Theatre Company production that marks "Brokeback Mountain" Academy Award nominee Gyllenhaal's American stage debut. This is a limited engagement of 13 weeks through Nov. 25.
The play first surfaced at the Bush Theatre in England in 2009. Here's how the new work is billed by the nonprofit Roundabout: "Provocative, insightful and laced with fresh humor, If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet is an entertaining look at a regular family stuck somewhere between knowing what the problem is... and doing something about it. Fifteen-year-old Anna's (Funke) weight makes her a natural target for bullies. When her mom (Gomez) transfers Anna to the school where she teaches in order to protect her daughter, it only makes things worse. Anna's environmentalist dad (O'Byrne), determined to finish his new book and save the planet, is no help at all. Just as Anna gets suspended for retaliating with a head-butt, her estranged uncle Terry (Gyllenhaal) arrives unannounced. A heartbroken drifter with the mouth of a sailor, Terry reaches out to Anna in a way that no one ever has. Their unexpected friendship sends her parents' rocky marriage into a tailspin as the whole family wonders, what — or who — really needs saving?"
"I fell in love with the character at the start," Gyllenhaal told Playbill magazine in a story that appears in the September issue. "He brings a sadness to the play, and I'm drawn to that darkness. He's a real avoider, like everyone in the play. Perhaps that disconnection is what connected me to him. I love his techniques of avoiding, how he speaks in short sentences and unfinished thoughts. The way each character talks looks differently on the page. I love the architecture of the words."
So what if his character comes with a British accent? "I've played British characters before," he said. "I've spent, accumulatively, about two years in London, and a majority of my very close friends are British. It comes somewhat naturally. I gravitate toward roles with accents. The voice is a wonderful way into the eternal life of the character."