"The Great God Pan" at Playwrights Horizons is conceptually sound. Jamie (Jeremy Strong) is a young man with a seemingly perfect life with a blossoming journalism career and beautiful girlfriend Paige (Sarah Goldberg). Then he meets up with an old childhood friend, Frankie (Keith Nobbs), and learns that Frankie's father may have molested him when he was just 4 years old. After that initial meeting, uncomfortable clues continue to emerge as Jamie hunts down the truth about his past. The play toys with themes of memory and maturity — how we grow up and what we leave behind, purposefully or not.
But aside from the premise, the fact that the one-act is a tight 85 minutes is probably the best part of "Pan." Although well-acted all around, the play is encumbered by a clumsy set, where a giant wall of boxes shifts around and chews up time during scene transitions. If "Pan" had been staged in a black box with folding chairs, the play probably would be only an hour, and just as gripping.
Other cuts that could be made include entire scenes and characters, especially those involving the boys' old babysitter (Becky Ann Baker). Now an old woman suffering from the forgetfulness of age, she's referenced enough by the other characters that actually wheeling her onstage for one scene is redundant. There are also two unnecessary asides with Paige and her nutritional counseling patient, which aren't part of Jamie's journey.
The title references Elizabeth Barrett Brown's "The Musical Instrument." The poem is delivered in the closing scene, where no concrete resolutions are offered. Like the reeds in the poem that are sundered to make a pipe and produce music, Jamie has to be broken down to become a better man. Hopefully the concept of this script — which repeatedly rests on two-person, back-and-forth dialogue as if playwright Amy Herzog was intimidated by the complex discourse — can be broken down and reworked into a
better production of "Pan."
If you go
'The Great God Pan'
Extended through Jan. 13,
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater,
416 West 42nd Street