Jake Gyllenhaal and David Schwimmer’s 2012 Off Broadway ventures

by Louise, Director of Operations

During the little Broadway lull before all the new shows start opening, I took the opportunity to go check out a few of the season’s Off Broadway offerings. This year we’re seeing a lot of celebrities come to Broadway, especially for roles in plays – Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Rudd, Ed Asner, Katie Holmes, Laurie Metcalf, Henry Weinkler, Alicia Silverstone, and many others will all be camped out on the Great White Way this autumn. But there’s no shortage of celebrities in the Off Broadway world either and they are the primary draw – though I’ll easily admit that they are not the ultimate takeaway – of the two Off Broadway plays I attended recently: Detroit and If There Is I Haven’t Found it Yet.

Detroit

Detroit stars two familiar faces if you’re a long time devotee of Thursday nights on NBC. David Schwimmer will always be best known as Ross on Friends, and Amy Ryan is most familiar to me because of her portrayal of Holly on The Office. However, in Detroit their roles could not be more different – they are a middle-aged couple – Mary and Ben – who just moved to a new house in a non-descript suburban neighborhood, struggling with the reality of the economic downturn and its effect on them. The play opens as they welcome their new neighbors, Sharon and Kenny (Sarah Sokolovic and Darren Pettie, who are both wonderful), to a friendly backyard barbeque. It comes to light fairly quickly that Sharon and Kenny come from a different walk of life, as they reveal to Mary and Ben that they met in rehab and are living in Sharon’s uncle’s house while they try to rebuild their lives.

It could be a simple story – two couples from very different backgrounds find themselves in the same place and form an awkward bond. But Detroit is not a simple play. It deals, without any pretense, with the realities of addiction, desolation, frustration with your lot in life, and the lengths people go to to try to derive pleasure from their circumstance. All four main actors are superb, and Broadway veteran John Cullum rounds out the cast with an exquisitely-delivered monologue in the final scene, as you sit still reeling and puzzling over what you’ve just seen happen.

I don’t want to give too much away about the story. I went in knowing almost nothing and believe that really contributed to my enjoyment of the production. You may not see yourself in Detroitbut you will recognize the desperation and bewilderment the characters feel as they navigate their way through the changes that have been thrust upon them. It will make you laugh but also make you pensive, and being Off Broadway it is of course a much more affordable night out than many Broadway shows. If you’re in town, I definitely recommend seeing it before it comes to the end of its limited run.

Detroit plays at Playwrights Horizons until October 7th.

If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet

When everyone first started talking about the wonderful Jake Gyllenhaal’s American theater debut, the title of this play caused a couple of “Who’s on First” style moments. But while the play has its comic moments, those moments of confusion before I saw it were the only times it really made me laugh.

Like Detroit, If There Is… tackles serious issues pretty unflinchingly. Again, the play centers on four characters, this time a family – a daughter whose struggle with weight has alienated her from her peers at school, a father whose obsession with global warming has alientated him from his daughter and wife, a mother unsure of how to deal with the alienation of her father and her daughter, and a long-absent uncle who comes for an unexpected visit.

Upon Uncle Terry’s (Gyllenhaal’s) arrival, Anna has just been suspended from school for head-butting another student, and with her parents both being largely unavailable, she and Terry are left with a lot of time to spend together. Anna is not used to having so much attention from an adult, let alone a man, and Terry is not used to being an adult, and their interactions are therefore both painful to watch and fascinating. Anna’s parents George and Fiona rarely leave the stage even when they aren’t part of the scene. In fact, all four characters stay on stage for almost the entire show, making their isolation from each other all the more frustrating.

Anyone who has seen If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet will tell you that one of the most remarkable parts of the production is the staging. At the play’s start, the props and furniture are in an unruly pile at the center of the stage, and a glass moat separates the stage from the audience with sheets of rain from the ceiling slowly filling it up. The actors pull the props from the pile as they need them, and as the scenes end they are discarded through a casual toss, an angry shove, or maybe a hybrid of the two, into the moat, raising the water level each time. Then, during a dramatic and heart-wrenching scene towards the end, the water level increases to the point where the whole stage is covered in several inches of water, not to mention discarded props and scenery. The actors spend the last 20 minutes or so sloshing around. It’s incredibly effective – while you already feel emotional discomfort at their circumstance, the water and messiness of the props create something akin to physical discomfort as well (my companion and I used to work in a chocolate shop together and we were both dying to go clean up the stage).

Gyllenhaal fans will be glad to know that his performance is outstanding – he has a spot on British accent and a shiftiness that really works for the character. His three costars Brian O’Byrne, Michelle Gomez and Annie Funk all deliver effective performances as well. It’s a compelling script, but the performances and the staging are what really make it an unforgettable production.

If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet plays at the Laura Pels theater until November 25th.

For help with tickets to either show, or if you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com!

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