Theater review by Adam Feldman. Playwrights Horizons (Off Broadway). By Amy Herzog. Dir. Carolyn Cantor. With Jeremy Strong, Sarah Goldberg. 1hr 15mins. No intermission.
The term recovered memory doesn’t quite apply, at least not in the usual sense, to the catalytic question of Amy Herzog’s keenly observant The Great God Pan. In the play’s first scene, the emotionally cloudy Jamie (Jeremy Strong) does learn from a childhood friend (a perfectly long-lost Keith Nobbs) that they may have been abused more than 25 years earlier. But this discovery does not prompt the uncovering of suppressed feelings in Jamie; if anything, it triggers a defensive mechanism, already at the ready, to dismiss the possibility as dubious or immaterial. Jamie’s bluff parents (Peter Friedman and Becky Ann Baker) and simmering girlfriend of six years, Paige (Sarah Goldberg), are less quick to write it off, especially since it could explain some of Jamie’s personal blockage. Yet that may be precisely what Jamie fears; denial, at least, gives him a sense of controlling his own destiny, however poorly he may be driving it.
The Great God Pan is tautly arranged around Jamie’s process of self-realization, with two brief contrapuntal scenes in which Paige, a onetime dancer sidelined by injury and pursuing a career as a nutritionist, tries to help a young woman (Erin Wilhelmi) with an eating disorder. The slender structure of Herzog’s tale does not permit much digression from the central story; despite uniformly fine acting in Carolyn Cantor’s production, the characters other than Jamie and Paige seem defined by their functionality to the points—sensitive and smart ones, granted—that Herzog wants to make. (This problem is heightened by a distractingly conceptual set that loses the action in a nebulous forest.) But if The Great God Pan doesn’t go as far as the playwright’s 4000 Miles, it offers an insightful look at how people who feel hollowed out can begin the hard labor of filling in the blanks.—Adam Feldman
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