Is past trauma best left buried, or is it worth piecing together fragments of memory to understand the truth? In Amy Herzog’s “The Great God Pan” (running through Oct. 28 at Cinnabar Theater), Jamie (Aaron Wilton) is confronted with the possibility that he was molested as a child. His confident denial disintegrates under closer inspection, leaving him haunted by the possibility that it really happened.
It is easy to feel for Jamie’s dark journey, yearning that he will be unaffected and safe.
Silence is a powerful tool in the hands of director Taylor Korobow, who emphasizes poignant moments with methodical staging. She allows characters to process the layers of emotion in their scenes, remaining quietly in the background as the story progresses. Conversations flow naturally, occasionally talking over each other, rather than using the artificial politeness that permeates most plays. There are odd pauses mid-sentence, exuberant discussions, and conspicuous body language left in rough honesty, rather than smoothed into polished language and elegant interactions.
Jamie’s struggle for answers affects those closest to him in discordant ways. Mildly judgmental Cathy (Susan Gundunas) finds herself consumed with guilt for not protecting him, and takes to wandering through the neighborhood at 1 a.m. jabbering incoherently on the phone.
His girlfriend, Paige (Taylor Diffenderfer), has her own inner demons to worry about, and calls him out on his lack of communication. “You listen, you don’t act.” She points out that relationships take work on both sides, and wonders if the last few years were a wasted effort on her side, since he refuses to take their life together seriously. The couple’s passionate, tense exchanges are riveting with fervent connection.
Suspended tree trunk pillars sway as actors push through them - their mesmerizing movement visually intriguing and evocative. Jon Tracy’s set and lighting design is stark with touches of natural elements. Dappled patterns are elemental, racing into harsh shadows when the mood shifts. A technical design of gentle rain, flickering lights, and blaring traffic, created by Kristoffer Barrera, is used with a surgeon’s precision.
“The Great God Pan” is uncomfortable at times, but with relatable characters who behave in a realistic fashion, displaying outbursts of cruelty and tender extensions of love. The level of commitment and vulnerability required of the actors is extensive, and the cast is fully immersed in their roles, from Nick Sholley’s nervous, jittery breakdown (he plays Jamie’s friend, who initially brings the accusations of abuse to light), to Richard Pallaziol’s courageous revelations late in the play.
Throughout the story, playwright Herzog takes on eating disorders, depression, suicide and addictions in a mounting quandary, alleviated by swiftly passing moments of humor. Unfortunately, the constant shifts in emphasis and content prevent the production from becoming truly gripping. Transitions are awkward and confusing, adding to the sense of disquiet.
Still, Herzog uses that uneasiness to force contemplation of difficult themes in a thought-provoking tapestry of trauma. Running 80 intense minutes without intermission, this is a memorable and provocative experience.