The Great God Pan

I spoke to my dad shortly after seeing The Great God Pan. I told him I didn’t love the play and, since we were having the conversation via cell phone, he asked for clarification of the name. Was it “pan” or “Pam”? I clarified that it is “pan,” and he said, “Well, then, I guess when you write your review you’ll pan it.” I retorted, “And if it was ‘Pam,’ I could have said that none of the ideas in the play stuck.” We had a good laugh and, unfortunately, that’s about all I got from Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan.

In her new play, Herzog (Afterthe Revolution) explores memories, personal history and how both combine to shape who we are. As presented at Playwrights Horizons, it’s a good first draft, bringing up some potentially rich topics, but it ultimately falls short.

At rise, 30-something Jamie (Jeremy Strong) is meeting his childhood friend, Frank (Keith Nobbs), whom he hasn’t seen in 25 years. Frank reveals that when he was a child he was sexually abused by his father and, to help him build a criminal case against his dad, asks Jamie if it had happened to him. This sends Jamie, who doesn’t recall anything – at first – into a tailspin, which isn’t helped by the revelation that his long-term girlfriend is unintentionally pregnant.

See? There are meaty, hot topics but Herzog doesn’t really go anywhere with them in this character study. The fascination builds as we watch Jamie unlock the door to his past but Herzog muddies the water with superfluous scenes of the girlfriend, Paige, at work and then ends the play just when Jamie is on the precipice of a breakthrough.

I suppose it’s to Herzog’s credit that I wanted to spend more time with Jamie, but it was frustrating to not have that time. The play clocks in at just one hour and twenty minutes (including the unnecessary scenes of Paige at work), and I would encourage Herzog to be unafraid of writing a long play so that we might continue to follow Jamie on this journey.

The deficiencies of the play are made up for by the production. The great cast, which also includes veterans Peter Friedman (Annie Baker’s Uncle Vanya; After the Revolution) and Becky Ann Baker (Good People), is directed by Carolyn Cantor and coalesces to appropriately poke and prod Jamie, while Mark Wendland’s (Next to Normal, Murder Ballad) scenic design of an ever shifting forest is deceptively simple and strikingly effective.

For more information about The Great God Pan visit the Playwrights Horizons website.