This January, members of the Green Room Reviews staff traveled to New York City for a week-long immersion program as part of their studies in the Goldring Arts Journalism Master’s Program at Syracuse University. Throughout the trip, they attended a variety of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Here is one of the Green Room Reviewers’ thoughts on a show that caught their eye in the Big Apple.
NYC Review by Nick DeSantis
For characters provided with so much engaging dialogue, it is ironic that the most honest correspondence is delivered through excruciatingly long silences.
In Amy Herzog’s intense drama The Great God Pan, now playing at Playwrights’ Horizons, the presence of family tensions and barely-remembered secrets are poorly concealed. The words and actions of people is what reveal their self-denial with every averted gaze and shuffled foot.
The lack of communication allows a long-dormant tragedy to fester within thirty-something Brooklynite Jaime. Portrayed with sloped shoulders and stilted speech by a restrained Jeremy Strong, the aspiring journalist appears to be living a good life until an unexpected visit from a childhood friend unwittingly poisons his prospects.
The faux-hawked and tattooed Frank (Keith Nobbs) reveals that he intends to press charges on his own father for years of sexual abuse, and that his dad may have preyed upon a young Jaime as well. Flustered by the insinuation, Jaime is insistent that Frank’s claim is baseless. However, self-assurance quickly gives way to doubt.
Crippled by curiosity, Jaime pursues an answer he doesn’t want to find. Through awkward, roundabout, yet scintillating interactions with his longtime girlfriend Paige (Sarah Goldberg), his emotionally distant parents (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Friedman), and the elderly Polly, his childhood babysitter (Joyce Van Patten), the cast effectively paints a portrait of their respective characters outside of the disingenuous words they exchange with one another.
Occasionally, nuggets of truth emerge through the fog, with each clue unlocking the mystery, such as Jaime’s faint memory of an “itchy couch,” eliciting an audible response from the attentive audience.
The only character demonstrating any self-awareness is Paige. A muted yet powerful standout performance by Goldberg tragically conveys the shattered dreams of the once-aspiring dancer turned social worker (whose current vocation repeatedly helps her identify her boyfriend’s personal shortcomings). Her ability to verbalize hard truths makes her character, and Goldberg’s performance, indelible to the process of self-realization by the rest of the cast.
Examining the flaws and corrosive influence of family is well-worn territory for Herzog, addressed in previous triumphs such as After The Revolution and 4000 Miles. The Great God Pan continues this theme by highlighting the less deliberate but nonetheless damaging effect of shared denial, with the audience feeling the burden of Jaime’s trauma with every step of his painful journey to discovery.
* The Great God Pan close Off-Broadway on Jan. 13, 2013.