Panning "The Great God Pan"

In ancient Greek mythology, Pan is seen as the god of many things: fields, groves, wooded glens, shepherds and flock, and rustic music. He is a friend of the nymphs and associated with spring and fertility. The half-goat god was quite busy, but on top of all those things, he was also the god of theatrical criticism so it’s fitting that the SMC theater department’s newest show uses his name.

“The Great God Pan” is a play originally written by Amy Herzog. It shares a name with a late 19th century novella by Arthur Machen where the main character, Dr. Raymond, attempts to open the mind of man to experiencing the world by performing minor lobotomies. The plot of the play has nothing to do with the novella, but SMC’s adaptation of “The Great God Pan,” directed by Dr. Adrianne Harrop, certainly felt like a lobotomized play.

The play centers around Jaime (Brendan James Cobia), a journalist who has his life thrown into disarray by the return of his childhood friend, Frank (Ayinde Ross), and the news that he brings. Frank files a lawsuit against his own father because of childhood sexual abuse. Frank’s father is strangely cooperative with the investigation, divulging the names of all the children he molested and Jaime is one of the kids that he named.

Jaime has a bad reaction to the news, not just because being molested is terrible, but because he has no recollection of it happening. What ensues is the ripple effect that this news has throughout Jaime’s life. The scenes that follow include interactions with his girlfriend of six years, Paige (Sophie Jones-Kellett), his mother, Cathy (Sarah Jean Long), his father, Doug (Ryan Matthew Corry) and his childhood babysitter, Polly (Jo Ellen Docherty).

The first thing that struck me was the dissonance in the dialogue. There was no rhythm in the conversations which randomly shifted between a choppy, staccato style and an Aaron Sorkin-esque, rapid fire style with no beats in between. The volume of speech was inconsistent with some characters shouting as if they were in a football stadium and others at the normal “speak to the person in the back row” volume. It seemed as though the cast was split in half and separated during rehearsals, never quite being on the same page.

The lack of rhythm and polish was compounded by clumsy writing and scenes that added nothing to the story. Two scenes in particular involving Paige at her job as a Social Worker and her patient, Joelle (Eilina Gabrielle Vergel de Dios), seemed completely superfluous, adding little to Paige’s character development, and only added an obnoxious character with a half-assed attempt at highlighting the issue of eating disorders in young women.

Blocking was also a problem for the actors as they awkwardly moved their way through scenes. This was especially apparent in the scenes involving Paige and Jaime where they always seemed to be doing a strange dance that had them switching between one person sitting down and the other one standing. This added to the list of issues that gave the appearance of an early rehearsal as opposed to their third show.

The stage was set up as four different locations going from left to right. The design came off as banal, with the living rooms of the second and third locations having the exact same palm tree in the corner behind couches. Side stage was also visible when sitting in the middle of the theater. The audience was able to see actors walking toward set doors minutes before their scene began which distracted from what was happening on stage and broke the suspension of disbelief.

The performances were a mixed bag but can most likely be chalked up to questionable directorial choices and Harrop’s failure to guide her actors. Cobia was at his best when his character, Jaime, was arguing and upset. He was able to nail these effusive scenes and command the stage with his presence, but unfortunately these were few and far between. His scenes with Ross were especially offensive to the ears as they were speaking in different keys. It sounded like they were just reciting lines instead of listening to each other and having a conversation.

Jones-Kellett would often show flashes of taking the play on her back and carrying it but also failed to be consistent and often lost rhythm. Her scenes with de Dios fell victim to the same lack of chemistry as the ones with Jaime and Frank. De Dios’ anxiety-ridden character was too loud to the point of pushing past funny into annoying and dominating the scene. Jaime’s dad, played by Corry, was a floundering character who failed to make an impact and his relationship with his son was hard to buy.

The shining stars of the show were Long, as Jaime’s mother, and Docherty, who played Polly. Long was the first character to appear with a normal speaking rhythm. Even though her character was meant to be a larger than life, theatrical caricature, she was able to keep it in check and keep her character based in reality. She delivered her lines with the poise and precision of a professional, and her comedic timing was impeccable. Docherty also showed great presence and timing and she was able to create a character that felt real.

The play was about 15-20 minutes shorter than Herzog’s original, which may account for why the play, as a whole, just felt incomplete. The ending seemed to sneak up out of nowhere without there ever being a climax. With no real antagonist and no climax, it was difficult to invest any emotion into the show. At times, “The Great God Pan” was both funny and entertaining, but it was too often overshadowed by inattention to detail and below average execution and fails to please the great god Pan.