BWW Reviews: THE GREAT GOD PAN is a Moving and Compassionate Examination of a Sensitive Topic
We have all experienced our parents relating something from our childhood of which we have no memory. In fact, if we examine it, the things we don't remember probably are greater than the things we do. In THE GREAT GOD PAN, a new play by Amy Herzog, produced by Street Corner Arts, now in its regional première at Hyde Park Theatre, the cloudy areas of memory become a downward spiral for Jamie, a budding journalist who finds his life disintegrating before him when a surprise visit from a friend out of his childhood reveals disturbing facts of his past.
THE GREAT GOD PAN is, in essence, a memory play and Herzog's construction, like memories themselves, is a collection of scenes rather than a straight narrative. It spans multiple locales and the passage of time is never quite clearly delineated. The script has been greatly supported by the direction of A. Skola Summers, the scenic design by Bruno-Pierre Houle and the lighting design of Shelby Gebhart. Summers direction has the cast handling the multiple scene changes in such a way that the characters seem to be examining them like they are examining their memories. I also found Houle's multipurpose set design to be perfect for the script. I especially liked the use of multiple practical lights on stage to set locale and the very subtle painting that suggested paintings by slight color shifts. Gebhart's lighting design is wonderfully moody in support of the script. In all, the technical aspects of the production are excellent.
The play opens with Jamie, played by Devin Finn, having an extremely awkward meeting with Frank (David Higgins), for the first time in some 25 years. Frank's family moved out of the neighborhood when they were 7. Frank has come to tell Jamie that he is filing charges against his own father for sexual abuse. Jamie is puzzled why Frank felt he needed to tell him this, until Frank adds that his father, who has admitted to abusing him, has also hinted that Jamie may also have been a victim.
This meeting is extremely disturbing to Jamie because there are gaping holes in his childhood memories. He can't even remember what Frank's father looked like. Thus begins the downward spiral of questions and doubts: Is his recollection of a scratchy sofa significant? Are these gaps his mind's defense against a traumatic past? How do you ever know the truth when you can't remember?
Herzog handles this disturbing topic in a way that is gentle, probing and totally honest without ever being graphic or salacious. As we are introduced to Jamie's family, little details surface and Jamie's confident denial slowly turns to dread.
The ensemble features seven actors, all of whom handle this material wonderfully. Devin Finn as Jamie and Molly Fonseca as Paige deliver emotionally bare and honest performances. David Higgins is both touching and moving as Frank. As Jamie's father, Doug, Joe Penrod is both charming and believable. Chris Humphrey is delightful as Polly, Jamie's old babysitter. The standout performances of the evening belong to Addie Alexander as Cathy, Jamie's mother and Katie Kohler as Joelle, a woman with an eating disorder being treated by Paige. Alexander delivers a sweet and haunting portrait of a mother faced with a horrible truth. Kohler is absolutely heartbreaking as a woman who is so afraid of facing her demons that she would rather deny herself the treatment she needs. If I had one quibble with the production, it would be the fabric tattoo sleeves worn by Frank. I realize the character is described by the playwright as heavily tattooed, but I can't see a justification for it in the script. I found them distracting from the good work of the actor.
The most disturbing aspect of Ms. Herzog's play is the sad truth that child abuse continues to destroy lives. Not just the direct victims, but the lives of people who didn't even know they were victims.
THE GREAT GOD PAN is a moving and thought provoking discussion of the monsters that lurk in memory. The terror and despair that surfaces when Jamie begins distrusting everything he thought he knew is something that will stick with me for quite some time.
THE GREAT GOD PAN by Amy Herzog
Running time: Approximately One Hour and 20 Minutes with no intermission
THE GREAT GOD PAN, produced by Street Corner Arts, at Hyde Park Theatre (511 W. 43rd St, Austin, TX, 78751) April 3-18, 2015. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets: www.streetcornerarts.org or (512) 298-9776.