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Living with the past

Epic's 'Great God Pan'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  March 19, 2014

WEIGHTY MATTERS Crews and Donnelly. [Photo by Jill Jones]

What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Right? Well, maybe. Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan suggests that buried within us may be long forgotten or suppressed memories that can affect our decisions and actions, reach up and grab our ankles like monsters in children’s nightmares.

Epic Theatre Company is staging the play (at Theatre 82 through March 22), directed by Juli Parker. It’s a slight offering, little more than an hour, but that’s plenty of time to survey a broad array of decisions to be made by its characters — made well, badly, or deferred indefinitely.

No time is wasted in getting to the point. Frank (Michael Shallcross) has traveled across the state to speak with Jamie (Kevin Broccoli on opening night, standing in for Michael Puppi, who had to attend to an illness in his family), who he hasn’t seen since they were boys 25 years ago. Frank says he recently recovered memories of being sexually abused in his childhood by his father; he’s bringing a criminal case against the man and has come to ask if Jamie recalls being molested.

“No” is Jamie’s immediate and definite answer. But the certainty is about the memory, not about the possible abuse.

Their babysitter at the time, Polly (Carol Drowne), is gradually losing her memory in a nursing home, so she is no help in determining what happened to Jamie.

Although the play doesn’t leave us up in the air about what if anything happened (informing us and Jamie about that at the end), the more interesting offering is about such uncertainty. To that purpose, several other characters enter.

Jamie has been living with Paige (Allison Crews) for six years. His not making a decision about getting married is common enough these days, but another choice has suddenly come up. She is pregnant, so now not only marriage but abortion is a question. We meet her the day after she broke the news, when they are deep into an argument. She is angry and he is apologizing for his initial shocked response. As befits the play’s subtext of uncertainty being the human condition, for a while we don’t know what they’re talking about. He asks for a week to think about how he feels about the situation, and Paige agrees.

Paige is a therapist and has a client, Joelle (Meghan Rose Donnelly), who gives another example of the fallibility of free will. The young woman has an eating disorder. While she has agreed to eat enough to gain a pound a week, she rationalizes that the two pounds she put on the week before are reason enough to have carrot sticks dipped in salsa for supper this week. Even our health isn’t necessarily enough motivation for us to think straight.

Sometimes we can’t accurately anticipate how people close to us will respond. When Jamie tells Frank’s grim news to his mother, Cathy (Mary Paolino), he is surprised that she isn’t as sympathetic toward his childhood friend as he expected, especially since she is a social worker. We get another inkling of his possible home life when his father, Doug (Bradford J. Greer), enters; though they hadn’t seen each other in many weeks, they shake hands instead of hug.

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