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Review: THE GREAT GOD PAN

THE BASICS:  The Jewish Repertory Theatre finishes up its Year of Amy Herzog with this terse little domestic drama from 2012.  PAN plays weekends (less Friday nights) through May 21st, at the JCC’s Seller Theatre, 2640 North Forest Road, Getzville.  Co-founder and Artistic Director Saul Elkin directs a cast of seven.  The show runs about 90 minutes; there is no intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  New Jersey, present day.  When we first meet him, Jamie, a struggling young journalist, seems to be in a pretty good place.  He’s finally getting some recognition, has supportive parents and a long-standing girlfriend who’d like to get married.  But when Jamie gets together with Frank, an old, old childhood friend, pretty much forgotten, Frank drops the bombshell that he is suing his own father for sexual abuse.  Moreover, Frank is pretty sure that Jamie was also victimized.  At age five.  Although Jamie has no conscious memory of this, the information triggers powerful emotions among his nearest and dearest, emotions that tug at hidden fault lines, and shake them all pretty much to the core.

THE PLAY, THE PLAYWRIGHT AND THE PRODUCTION:  PAN is certainly a close relative of AFTER THE REVOLUTION, which the JRT put on just a few months ago. In both works, “dynamite” information from long ago wells up surprisingly, shaking the discoverers, their kin, and significant others.  Playwright Herzog is clearly interested in deceptive surfaces, things that are actually quite different from what they appear to be.  For Emma, the overly principled protagonist of AFTER THE REVOLUTION, the news she gets is untenable, heartbreaking.  Jamie, who is not a crusader but a super-reasonable type who functions with a lot of denial, is simply brought low.  No tragedy this time.  Herzog is content to leave him there.  If we the audience feel a bit cheated, can you blame us?

The play itself is a thing of pieces, little scenes that feel little, leave us wanting more.  Sometimes a whole lot more.  On the positive side, you can easily get into a lively conversation about things the playwright either glanced over or omitted, if you happen to be with others so inclined.  On the negative side, you could walk out feeling that you have been deprived on a full, satisfying theater experience.  I doubt that many will disagree when I say that a play about the sexual abuse of young children should have more emotional punch.

The cast is pretty darn good, with Adam Yellen, in a frontiersman beard, carrying the show as Jamie. 

The cast is pretty darn good, with Adam Yellen, in a frontiersman beard, carrying the show as Jamie.  Kelly Beuth appears to have been miscast as Jamie’s troubled S.O., Paige.  Her line readings are so highly charged, so bursting with emotion, that it’s almost impossible to think of her as a therapist (even one on the rebound from a dancing career cut short).  Among those in support, I particularly enjoyed Darleen Pickering Hummert’s little turn as the demented Polly, the two boys’ babysitter from long ago. (Was she complicit in their abuse?  Ms. P-H thinks so, as she told me afterwards, but hey, we’ll never know!)

 

There is nothing very distinctive about the JRT staging, from the standpoint of production values.  I do think that a little more interpolated music would have added to the experience.

IN SUM:  I have my issues with this play, but it’s always great to see something new onstage in WNY.   Kudos to Saul Elkin for introducing me, and I’m sure many others, to the talented and provocative Ms. Herzog.  An acquaintance well worth the making!

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Grant Golden

Grant Golden

GRANT GOLDEN wears a number of hats. He has been practicing radiology in Buffalo since 1981, for the past 15 years, with Seton Imaging. Dr Laszlo Tabar, internationally famous mammographer, has been his special friend and mentor.

Grant began The Old Chestnut Film Society, Buffalo’s only film society, in 1983. Now in its 35th consecutive season, the OCFS does monthly screenings of Hollywood classics in 16mm.

He has written the scores (and some of the books) for a number of locally produced musicals, including the old WONDERMAKERS shows, THE OTHER ISLAND, NOBODY’S INN (Alleyway Theatre), IZZY! (Musicalfare), and ME II (Western Door Playhouse). He reviewed local plays on the radio for 20 years--on WBEN and WBFO—before making the switch to BuffaloRising.

Grant and his lovely wife Deborah live in Central Park with their dog Ginger, and cats Ella and Felix. They have three adult children, and now, happily, two grandchildren!

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