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Cinnabar presents Amy Herzog’s ‘The Great God Pan’

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: “The Great God Pan’ By Amy Herzog, directed by Taylor Korobow

When: Friday, October 12-28. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m.

Where: Cinnabar Theatre, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: $15-$50, available by calling 763-8920 or visiting CinnabarTheater.org.

It is safe to say there has never been a set built on the stage of Cinnabar Theater that looks anything like what is currently being created for the company’s upcoming production of Amy Herzog’s 2012 drama “The Great God Pan.”

Gone are the usual flats and panels, doors and windows. Instead, a large number of birch tree logs have been hung from free-swinging cables throughout the performance area, each one dangling just 1 foot above the stage floor, giving the sense of a forest, while allowing the play’s cast to … what? How exactly will all of those pendulum-like beams be used within the context of the play?

“I hate to say, ‘You’ll have to come see the show to find out,’ ” says actor Nick Sholley, arriving early for an evening rehearsal, “but, you know, you’ll have to just come see the show to find out.”

With a smile and a shrug, Sholley does allow that he and his fellow cast-members will be “interacting” with the trees from time to time. But whether or not those arboreal effigies ever get swinging like chimes in a windstorm — something it certainly looks like they could do — the visual effect they immediately present is quite striking, and strangely beautiful and mysterious.

“It’s another Jon Tracy original,” laughs actor Aaron Wilton, suddenly appearing to drop the name of the show’s award-winning set designer, also an acclaimed Bay Area director and light designer. Tracy is the husband of the play’s director, Taylor Korobow, who helmed Cinnabar’s 2016 production of the powerful “The Quality of Life.”

While waiting for the rest of the cast and crew to assemble, Sholley and Wilton sit down to talk about “The Great God Pan,” beginning with a joint, all-hands-on-deck, two-person explanation of why the play, set in modern times, is named after a Greek god.

“There is a poem that’s quoted in the play, a poem by Elizabeth Barret Browning,” begins Sholley, referring to Browning’s “A Musical Instrument,” written shortly before she died in 1861, and published posthumously.

“And the poem is quoted by some of the characters in our play,” states Wilton, quickly reciting a few of the poem’s famous lines. “What was he doing, the great god Pan, down in the reeds by the river? Spreading ruin and scattering ban, splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat …”

Sholley now joins in, the pair of them reciting the remainder of the stanza in unison.

“… And breaking the golden lilies afloat, with the dragon-fly on the river.”

The poem, originally viewed as incendiary and politically inflammatory - but now considered highly influential and ahead-of-its-time – borrows from the ancient story of Pan - the god of nature, flocks and shepherds, pastures and mountains – and how he came to create his famous pan-pipe. In the myth, Pan falls in love with the river nymph Syrinx, who spurns him and, pursued by Pan, begs Zeus to save her. Zeus, in answer to Syrinx’s prayer, transforms her into a number of reeds, growing from the bank of the river. Eager to possess his desired conquest at any cost, Pan pulls up the reeds, hollows them out, and creates his famous pan flute, the music of which soon brings pleasure to all who hear it.

PLANNING TO GO?

What: “The Great God Pan’ By Amy Herzog, directed by Taylor Korobow

When: Friday, October 12-28. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m.

Where: Cinnabar Theatre, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: $15-$50, available by calling 763-8920 or visiting CinnabarTheater.org.

“The implication of the poem,” Wilton explains, “in the context of our play, anyway, is that Pan is used as sort of a symbol of mirth and joy …”

“… and hedonism and chaos …” adds Sholley.

“… all of which can have very negative effects,” Wilton continues, “when taken to certain extremes.”

“One way of looking at the poem,” says Sholley, “and at certain parts of the play, is that they both are about the lasting ruin that can be caused by certain selfish acts.”

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

One clear theme of Herzog’s play – which runs a fast-paced 80-minutes with no intermission - is the lasting damage of child sexual abuse. The story itself deals with a 30-something journalist, Jamie (Wilton), who is informed by his childhood friend Frank (Sholley) that after years of silence, Frank is suing his own father for sexual abuse. Frank believes that Jamie might also have been abused, and has suppressed his memories of it. In reviewing the play during its original run, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood praised Herzog’s fierce but delicate writing, calling her “one of the bright theatrical lights of her generation.”

Also in the Cinnabar production are actors Taylor Diffenderfer, Richard Pallazial, Susan Gundunas, Carly Van Liere and Kate Brickley.

“I think it’s less a play about child abuse than a play about memory,” observes Sholley. “It feels like such a timely play for this specific moment in time. It’s a very character-driven story, a beautifully written exploration of what it’s like to discover that one might have been abused during their childhood, but somehow has absolutely no memory of it.”

In that way, says Wilton, watching the play feels like viewing an edge-of-the-seat mystery.

“The big question hanging over the whole story,” he says, “is whether or not the thing actually ever happened. Of course, my character is a journalist, so the play becomes this investigation into what really happened or didn’t happen. Everyone has their own memories, and memories are weird and unstable things, sometimes. Along the way, everyone in my character’s life has to shift their own understanding of all of our relationships with each other.”

“And like the poem suggests,” adds Sholley, “there is a ‘spreading of ruin,’ but there’s also music, in a way. As a result of what happens in the play, there is beauty, too. It’s not just about things that are lost, but things that are discovered as well.

“Like I said,” Sholley adds with another laugh, “you’ll have to come see the show to find out.”