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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Playwrights Horizons


  Jeremy Strong and Sarah Goldberg/ Ph: Joan Marcus

In her new play The Great God Pan, Amy Herzog tackles several serious issues: recovered memory, child abuse, eating disorders and relationship problems. It's a thoughtful and ambitious play without a tidy, comforting resolution. Unfortunately, some of the characters aren't as well fleshed out as others, and at times the play feels static. 
The opening scene introduces us to the main character, Jamie (Jeremy Strong), who is having a reunion with childhood friend Frank (Keith Nobbs) after 25 years. Frank is gay and working as a masseur upstate. Jamie is an up-and-coming journalist. Rather than just a friendly get-together, however, it turns out that Frank has news that will seriously affect Jamie. Frank was abused by his father as a child and is filing charges against him. What's more, things his father told him indicate that Jamie may have been abused as well. Jamie initially shrugs this off and says he has no memory of anything like that. But as the play goes on, he (and we) begin to think that maybe he was molested and has repressed the memory.  
The rest of the play sheds more light on Jamie and his relationships with his girlfriend Paige (Sarah Goldberg) and his parents (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Friedman). We learn that he has intimacy issues and is slow to fully commit to his girlfriend; after six years together Jamie hasn't proposed, and he isn't thrilled to hear that she's pregnant. He also has a distant relationship with his parents, who live just an hour away in New Jersey. His parents reveal that Frank's father did have the opportunity to molest him. Jamie also visits a former babysitter, Polly (Joyce Van Patten), who used to recite the Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem "The Great God Pan." She doesn't give Jamie any answers about what may or may not have happened to him. But within the poem is the ominous phrase "spreading ruin," which brings to mind the ongoing damage done by child abuse. Herzog has said that her main theme here is not abuse but memory. Near the end of the play Jamie seems to be speaking for Herzog when he says, "I also think there's a reason for forgetting."
If that's not enough heavy material for one play, there are also scenes in which Paige counsels a girl named Joelle (Erin Wilhelmi), who is trying to get over an eating disorder. There are parallels with what Jamie is going through, but Herzog doesn't make them too obvious. The playwright seems to be drawn to people in crisis. In her wonderful play 4000 Miles, a young cyclist tries to cope with the death of his traveling companion. In that play the two main characters, the cyclist and his grandmother, were so beautifully drawn and so memorably portrayed in the Lincoln Center production that it was one of the best plays of the year. While The Great God Pan is well written and features solid performances, it's not nearly as moving as 4000 Miles.
Nonetheless, Herzog is a subtle, smart playwright who writes about tough subject matter with subtlety and complexity, and Carolyn Cantor (who staged Herzog's After the Revolution at Playwrights Horizons) directs with a delicate touch. I look forward to seeing Herzog's other plays, including Belleville, which will be presented by New York Theatre Workshop this spring.


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