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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Great God Pan

Or: What Kids Remember

Amy Herzog has a genius for human speech. Other contemporary playwrights master mystery, drama, high language, comedy but she knows what goes into humanness. The excitement of The Great God Pan, comes not from the mystery of what happened to Jamie (Brett Schneider) in his youth, but testing how pliable the human memory is, how it can be shaped, rerouted, suppressed and, indeed, altered.

Jamie is “living right”. He has a job he loves, doting parents Cathy and Doug (Jan Radcliff and James Leaming), a smart girlfriend Paige (Kristina Valada-Viars), and even goes to visit his old babysitter, Polly (Margaret Kustermann) in the nursing home. Yet he is distant, indecisive, almost adrift at times, and doesn’t know why. But when his childhood playmate, friend is too strong a word, Frank (Matt Hawkins) contacts him asking after a traumatizing event lost to the deep backward and abyss of time, Jamie finds himself chasing phantoms about what might or might nor have happened. The ripples emanating from his plunges into those murky waters rock the lives of those closest to him and threatens to capsize his whole world.

Wide ranging and viscus as this memory play is director Kimberly Senior has really taken this memory play in hand. She draws our attention not to the whitewater of struggle and strife, though there are plenty of those, but to the moments of glassy, dangerously innocent looking laminar flow of Jamie and co. piecing the jigsaws of their reality together and putting their fingers around the boards. Despite the many various locations of the play throughout New York and New Jersey, Senior has chosen to house the story in a trendy caffe with the entire cast perched on stools, fiddling with their laptops, staring out at the life of the city. This not only makes for snappy transitions but also provides a wall for a character mentioned, or who’s mentioned is skirted around, to make their presence innocuously but unmistakably known. It’s also a great triumph for set designer Courtney O’Neill to capture the essence of the trendy, cleaned-up bohemian cafe which strives so hard to be unique but always end up identical.

This is not a detective story, about whether or not a boy was bound up in an abominable act twenty years ago. Herzog’s acheingly true silences and digressions and brittle reminders how we fail the one’s we love pinch harder than even the most thrilling of thrillers. It’s personal and raw and the mystery is engrossing but it is not a hunt for the truth but rather an inspection how we live with each other and ourselves.

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