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'Great God Pan' plays firmly outside the comfort zone

Amy Herzog opens her play "The Great God Pan" with a disturbing revelation that ripples out to wash over secrets being held deep and still. Onstage at the Jewish Repertory Theater in Getzville, the results are mixed but thought provoking.

Herzog loads a lot onto the affected characters, who deal with floods of emotions as personal disclosures and issues of self-discovery come in a quick succession. Each tightly written scene deliberately creates more questions than it answers, and depending on your expectations that can either be intriguing or infuriating.

The biggest question of the play is whether Jamie, a 32-year-old freelance journalist, was molested by a friend's father when he was a child. Frank, the friend, has been out of Jamie's life since they were 7. He has gotten back in to tell Jamie that he's suing his own father over his sexual abuse. Then, he asks Jamie if he, too, was a victim.

Jamie, played with bluster by Adam Yellen, recoils at the suggestion. He doesn't remember anything like that, and, though he's sympathetic, he wants to get away from Frank (Jordan Louis Fischer) as fast as he can.

Whether Jamie was molested becomes almost secondary to how everyone reacts to the possibility that he was molested. Somehow, this danger from the distant past peels away the reserve that has covered  all the other secret sufferings that haunt Jamie and his family.

It comes at a particularly bad time for Jamie and his longtime girlfriend, Paige (Kelly Beuth). The two already are at odds over their own secret, and Jamie isn't handling things well.

Then, neither is Paige. When they are together, they bring out the worst in one another. The strident way the relationship plays out in this production makes it a hard to believe the two would ever have bene together.

At one point Paige follows up a series of profane accusations by telling Jamie, "I know you're not sure of me the way I'm sure of you" – a nearly perfect line by Herzog that gets to the heart of their troubles – but then she drops it, shifting lightly to mild observations about Jamie's homophobia.

Jamie's scenes with his parents (played by Steve Vaughan and Lisa Vitrano) are most consistent. They three are more in sync with one another and their interactions underscore the shared history that lies behind Frank's disturbing reappearance. Vaughan and Vitrano keep their characters grounded even while their world is being shaken, and are the strongest links in the show.

It turns out that Jamie has forgotten far more than he realizes, which makes him even more worried about what else is buried in his past. The uncertainty blossoms in all directions, as Paige; Jamie and his parents begin to rewrite their perceptions of every fault or failing to include abuse that may or may not have happened.

The speed of this assimilation becomes a lot to handle. Jamie and Paige have trouble controlling their dials for volume and tone, and a sidebar story involving an anorexic patient (Amelia Scinta) and Paige's own shattered dreams struggles to plug into the main drama.

Darleen Pickering Hummert helps fill in the backstory as Frank and Jamie's childhood babysitter, acting as a sort of soothsayer offering cryptic bits of memory from her view in the nursing home.

The show runs less than an hour and a half, concluding with the sad resolution of one issue, a fill-in-the-blank ending for another, and the uncomfortable feeling that, for these people, there is more to come.

Review

"The Great God Pan"

2 1/2 stars (out of four)

One revelation begets even more painful disclosures in Amy Herzog's family drama "The Great God Pan." Through May 21 at Jewish Repertory Theatre, 2640 North Forest Road, Getzville. Tickets: jewishrepertorytheatre.com.

 

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