The Great God Pan
Playwright Amy Herzog is only 33 years old.
That's saying something because her new play "The Great God Pan," running at Playwrights Horizons, affirms that she writes characters with as much complexity and subtlety as any writer in America. Following on her excellent pendant dramas about the fictional Joseph clan, "After The Revolution" and "4000 Miles," of last year, this latest work cannot be marked off as a fluke or beginner's luck.
Herzog is a major new talent.
She is aided here by a superb production from director Carolyn Cantor and an outstanding seven-person cast.
"The Great God Pan's" deftness is made still more impressive by the fact that the audience has a rough idea where this eighty-minute, intermission-less story is headed from its first scene. That's when massage therapist Frank (Keith Nobbs) tells the somewhat remote journalist and childhood pal Jamie (Jeremy Strong) that his father has confessed to being a sexual predator.
Frank follows this revelation with the news that his father has said that he not only took advantage of him but of Jamie as well. With this news, Frank asks for Jamie's assistance in putting his father away.
Is Jamie dissembling in claiming that he wasn't a victim? Or is he simply in denial about events he only vaguely remembers? In either case, might what's happened be the reason for his awkwardness with gay male friends and cause of his intermittent impotence with his girlfriend (Sarah Goldberg), a beautiful former dancer now employed as a psychiatric social worker?
Gradually, Herzog shows how this long-forgotten incident comes also to color Jamie's relationship with his mother (Becky Ann Baker) and father (Peter Friedman) and to raise the matter of their own willful blindness and culpability.
Some years ago, Paula Vogel, author of the play "How I Learned To Drive," made the bizarre claim that discussion about child-rape might be causing as much damage as sexual abuse itself does. Herzog rightly rejects this inane notion. But she is able to see that facing up to early trauma is not without its own cost or complication.
Cantor's direction of this involving drama is unorthodox but inspired. Working with a play whose characters often seem to be in hiding, she avoids presenting the actors directly to the audience until the very end. As well, she wisely locates the story in front of an abstract unit set to focus our attention on the story and the characters rather than the tale's multiple settings.
She and the author are most helped by their tremendous cast though.
A special standout among this number is Friedman, who manages to approach a series of difficult moments with extraordinary directness and honesty. Also worthy of special note is Goldberg, a young woman who projects an unusual union of high intelligence, great openness and startling beauty.
Taking her title from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem about the violence ever-present in nature, Herzog has created a powerful play that is dark and frank without being despairing or void of hope.
"The Great God Pan" runs through Jan. 13 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street. For tickets or info, call 212-564-1235 or go to www.playwrightshorizons.org.