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BWW Interviews: Annie Funke Makes Waves With IF THERE IS I HAVEN'T FOUND IT YET

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Annie Funke is making waves in Nick Payne’s watery familial drama, IF THERE IS I HAVEN’T FOUND IT YET, portraying the 15-year-old daughter of a couple in distress. The play shines a light on the faltering marriage of Fiona (Michelle Gomez) and George (Brian F. O’Byrne) as it is tipped over by George’s interloper brother Terry (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Throw in environmental science, parental neglect and a chubby adolescent tormented by school bullies, and you have what most would consider a downer of a play. But thanks to the creative juices of the playwright Payne, mixed with the creative staging and direction of Michael Longhurst, the drama maintains a glimmer of light even in the darkest of scenes.

Funke easily related to the trials of her character, Anna, having also had her share of bullying while in middle school. Funke’s memories may be light-years removed from her unpleasant experiences, but they serve as ballast for her performance. “When I read the break-down of the play, I so related to the bullying aspect,” she said in a recent interview. Her personal upbringing was positive and supportive, unlike what her character has to deal with. “Sure I had some insecurities about my weight, but I was very independent and never got into such a negative headspace as my character does.”

The story revolves around Anna’s parents: her father is writing a book on the environment and her mother who is teaching her students how to put on a play; tellingly, it is “The War of the Worlds.” Throw in George’s brother Terry, a romantic drifter who drinks and smokes pot, and the drama unfolds in unexpected ways. Terry becomes allied with Anna, who responds to his overtures as would a neglected child. Terry becomes a confidant and purveyor of advice that needy Anna soaks up like a thirsty ficus.

“I think Anna wants to be really seen by someone, and Terry sees her for the first time,” Funke said. “They both have anger issues that they don’t express very well and they have something that the other wants.” Terry wants to be taken seriously; Anna wants to be loved. It’s a complicated relationship, she said.

“Anna wants desperately to have someone love her and from her perspective, Terry leads her on,” Funke said. “He becomes a figure in her life she never had before. Even though it’s ambiguous, it’s also a loving and delicate relationship.

Funke drew on her own experiences being bullied to really get into the head of her character. “I have very specific experiences that I remember that help me take on the mind-set of Anna,” said Funke, now in her 20s. “It’s interesting to revisit these things with an adult’s perspective.”  

In addition to the outpouring of emotion, the play uses about 28,000 gallons of water, from the onstage downpour in the beginning to the ending, which is subject to interpretation, she said. Tables, chairs, a bed and other props are taken by the actors from a central onstage heap and are pitched into a water-filled moat at the lip of the stage once they have been used in a scene. A nod to global warming and polar ice caps melting? That’s also subject to personal speculation, Funke said.

Audience members puzzled by the meaning of the play’s title aren’t the only ones, Funke said. The actors had a chance to think about the title’s meaning in a group exercise. “I think the title means something different to every person,” she said. “For George it might mean, ‘Is there a way for humans to survive ecological disaster?’ Or for Anna, ‘Is there a way for me to be seen as I really am?’ There’s no happy ending, it just makes you ask more questions.”

One moment in the final scene with Terry and Anna, standing on what looks like the bow of a ship, (Titanic references are plentiful throughout the play) ended in unexpected laughter during one show. “Either the second or third preview we were standing on the top level and I had a bag over my shoulder and it flew down to the water-drenched stage,” Funke said. “The audience laughed and we laughed and it was just an organic moment.”

More seriously is what she hopes audiences will walk away with. “I hope that people are challenged in a way they wouldn’t be in a musical. They may think a little more about issues of importance, like global warming,” she said. “I think the main theme is about change ­­– do we want to change if we’re in a family who neglects their children?

“I’ve had girls come up to me after the play and thank me so much for portraying this character,” she said. “One girl said it made her think she was not alone. A gift of a script like this is an honor, and I’m so happy to be part of it.”

If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet is a Roundabout Production. It runs through November 25 at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. www.roundabouttheatre.org/

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