Theater Review - The Great God Pan (NY)

Amy Herzog has demonstrated that she writes plays with a natural deftness, a perception for character, and a feeling for the contemporary issues of the day. My favorite so far by far has been “4000 Miles.”  In her newest venture, “The Great God Pan,” she explores many problems, too many. In one hour and 20 minutes without intermission, she covers heavy topics like sex abuse between father and son, love and unexpected pregnancy between a couple living together for six years, post postpartum anxiety, dementia and bulimia. In a bucolic setting designed by Mark Wendland, lit greenly by Japhy Weideman, we meet the cast, costumed by Kaye Voyce, in a series of interesting unfolding scenes directed with a light, smooth hand by Carolyn Cantor. Cantor directed Herzog's “After theRevolution.” 


In the first important scene Frank, tattooed and openly gay, confronts Jamie, a childhood friend he hasn't seen in 25 years! Jamie, the quietly effective Jeremy Strong, has been fairly successful as a journalist, while Frank, the dynamic Keith Nobbs, we learn later, has spent time in jail for drugs and cashing bad checks. Frank is suing his dad for sex abuse and wants to know if Jamie was abused, as well. Jamie has no recall about any of this, really does not like Frank, and leaves their meeting with a sense of unease. They had not seen each other since they were 7 years old, and their strongest shared memory is of their babysitter, Polly who, portrayed by the wonderful Joyce Van Patten, is still charming although in a wheel chair and suffering from some dementia. Polly provides an explanation of the title of this play, for she would take the children in her care for walks while reciting an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, “What was he doing, the Great God Pan, down in the reeds by the river? Spreading ruin and scattering ban.”   


Jamie grows more uncomfortable when he learns that his live in girlfriend, Paige, a former dancer, now social worker, played by the lovely Sarah Goldberg, is pregnant.  She wants his support but he cannot give it. At the same time, his parents, Cathy and Doug, who live in Highland Park, New Jersey, confess that they sent him to stay at Frank's house for a week when he was 41/2 years old and they were having problems following the birth of their daughter. I am always amazed when I see character actors like Becky Ann Baker and Peter Friedman take what seem like insignificant parts and make them so real and inevitably important.  Finally, Paige through counseling bulimic student Joelle, the frighteningly thin Erin Wilhelmi, realizes that she must have an abortion and get on with her life.


“The Great God Pan” ends on an enigmatic note. Maybe instead of a second act, which I felt was needed, Amy Herzog will write a sequel. At Playwrights Horizons.

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