What was he doing, the great god Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban…
These opening lines from the Elizabeth Barret Browning poem “A Musical Instrument” are spoken midway through Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan, now running in a gripping production directed by Taylor Korobow at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater. It’s is an 85-minute long treatise on the power of memory, its oft-foggy character, and the ruin that can emerge from the deep recesses of the mind.
Frank (Nick Sholley) and Jamie (Aaron Wilton) are childhood friends who have not seen each other in twenty-five years. Frank has reached out to Jamie to share some disturbing information. He is filing a case against his own father for sexual abuse, and he wants to know if Jamie has anything he wants to share.
Jamie, while insistent that nothing happened, begins to investigate his own past. He speaks to his parents (Richard Pallaziol, Susan Gunderas), who have their own revelation to share, and his old babysitter Polly (Kate Brickley), who is suffering from the onset of dementia but clearly remembers other events from Jamie’s childhood quite differently than he does.
The situation has added stress to his already brittle relationship with his girlfriend and social-worker-in-training Paige (Taylor Diffenderfer) who thinks it may be an explanation for Jamie’s homophobia, commitment issues and sexual problems. Or are Jamie’s problems a reflection of his upbringing by loving-but-aloof parents? Or are they just his problems?
And what of Frank? Polly remembers him as a liar. He himself says that there are things that he remembers that he chose not to think about, and things that he didn’t remember up until recently, and then there are things recently described to him that he still doesn’t remember – yet. Even if everything he says is true, was Jamie ever involved?
The entire ensemble is superb with Wilton giving a tremendous performance as Jamie, a man whose very structured life is on the verge of collapse as he seeks answers to the questions raised by Frank.
Those questions hover over the play like the forest-like set pieces designed by Jon Tracy. Tracy’s set is a terrific physical manifestation of the fluidity of memory and the interaction with and manipulation of it is a mesmerizing component of the show.
A fascinating story, riveting performances, and striking design work combine to make a show that, once seen, is not easily forgotten.
Rating (out 5 five): ★★★★★
’The Great God Pan’ runs through Oct. 28 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $15–$50. 707.763.8920. cinnabartheater.org.
Photos by Victoria Von Thal