Review: “If There Is, I Haven’t Found It Yet” (Steep Theatre Co.)

If There Is I Haven't Found it Yet (photo by Lee Miller)
If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet
(photo by Lee Miller)

Show: If There Is, I Haven’t Found It Yet

Company: Steep Theatre Co.

Venue: Steep Theatre

Die Roll: 17

Let me preface this by saying that I love being transported by a good show. I don’t care what the medium is; I want great storytelling, and when I get it – bliss. I’ve spent the past twenty years bumping around theatre, and thus have developed both high standards of storytelling and a healthy dose of cynicism regarding the tricks we theatre-folk can employ to take our audiences on a ride.  If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet rises to the occasion and unfolds with lots of humor, moments of brutal truth, and some fantastic performances.

This is a Midwest premiere for Nick Payne’s 2009 play, which won him the 2009 George Devine Award for new writing in theater, and whose subsequent works (all of which I intend to read, if not see, if not be in, damnit) have garnered the playwright a host of prestigious awards for his trophy case.  It’s not hard to see why. The script is funny, intelligent, and gut-stabbingly good. Layer in honest performances, incredible production design, and the mark of a skilled and thoughtful director (Jonathan Berry), and you have a hilarious yet thought-provoking production.

Our environment is falling apart and George (Peter Moore) hopes that the book he’s feverishly writing will help humanity save itself before it’s too late.  Meanwhile, his daughter, fifteen-year old Anna (Caitlin Looney), suffers the indignities of being a high-school outsider, while his wife Fiona (Cynthia Marker) wonders what has happened to her relationships with her husband and daughter. Into this passively dysfunctional family crashes Peter’s younger brother, Terry (Shane Kenyon), filterless and frank, who has returned to town in the hopes of reuniting with a former flame.

Over the next 105 minutes, these characters destroy themselves and each other in hysterical high fashion. Again, the script delivers the perfect balance of laughter and gut-punches, and the actors rise to the material. Each character has a distinct relationship with each other character, and each of these relationships evolve in unpredictable ways.  Every step of the action examines the question “Are we worth saving?” Is this relationship worth saving? Is the world worth saving? Am I worth saving?

Peter Moore and Shane Kenyon shine as polar-opposite brothers: the elder a somewhat repressed intellectual, the younger an earthy heart-driven guy. They love each other, but they have no idea what to do with each other. Also moving is the relationship Anna finds with her uncle. Their common ground is their loneliness, and their awkward, lovely evolution into uncle and niece both accentuates and also dissipates that isolation. Terry’s arrival serves as the catalyst to unleash the tension that has built up in the family; his sudden disappearance has equally cataclysmic results.

The set design was brilliant, allowing great flexibility in the playing spaces within the thrust configuration of the theatre. Props to designer Chelsea M. Warren for suggesting the fractures in the household through creative use of low-level platforms, piping and a few versatile set pieces. I especially loved the hanging windows along the walls.

All in all, this is a fantastic production that grabs the audience from the start and takes them on a wildly emotional ride. The best stories stay with you, and this show does not disappoint. I highly recommend it.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Is there a reason we’re worth saving? Ponder the question.

RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”