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Theater Thu Apr 17 2014
"If you could kindly remember what we've told you to forget, please," is the undercurrent that takes hold of Jaime (Brett Schneider) in The Great God Pan just as he's settling into a new job as an internet wunderkind journalist and the idea of girlfriend Paige's (Kristina Valada-Vlars) "unplanned" pregnancy. The job is what he lives for, while he is still so unsure of committing to the woman he's been with for six years that upon Paige's pregnancy announcement, Jaime negotiates for "one week, just one week" before he will let her know if he's ready and willing to stay and be a permanent fixture in her and the child's life.
Bret Schneider as Jaime (left) and Matt Hawkins as Frank in The Great God Pan. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
It is only fitting that a "wunderkind" internet writer would find his whole meaning of life and self-doubt hijacked through the omnipotent power of social media. Childhood acquaintance Frank (Matt Hawkins) tracks down Jaime's whereabouts via — well, the same way perhaps every last person in the developed world has been tracked down in the last few years — social media sites. Frank wants to reconnect and meet in person with Jaime, to catch up — which seems odd to Jaime because Frank and his family, the stereotypically "weird" family of the neighborhood — moved away when Jaime was 7, and he barely remembers Frank, except for the lingering memory of 7-year-old Frank's weepiness and neediness, especially when both boys were with babysitter Polly (Margaret Kustermann). But Jaime agrees, perhaps persuaded by Frank's present-day neediness, or Jaime's unacknowledged need to see Frank more than Frank may need to see Jaime.
It's at a neighborhood coffee shop in Jaime's Brooklyn neighborhood where the two men chat over coffee, albeit stammered and forced memories. Mostly the conversation centers on the now dementia-afflicted Polly, whom Frank has visited at her assisted living home. Once what little reminiscing the men can muster dissipates, Frank lays the reason for his visit bare: seems that Frank was sexually abused by his own father, with his mother aware of the abuse. Jaime is empathetic, in a journalist-empathy kind of way. Frank's bomb-drop explains a lot — Frank the almost perpetually crying little boy, his pulling away from the other adults but clinging to Polly, the family being designated as the "weird family" of the neighborhood.
Jaime gives nodding approval to Frank's refusal to no longer be defined by his father's crimes against him, and his mother's "benign" betrayal. Frank plans to sue his father for the harm he inflicted, that harm having nothing to do with Frank's ability to build out a successful relationship with his male partner, but perhaps everything to do with his two prison stints for bad check writing and thefts.
Jaime wonders aloud, "What do you need from me? I don't remember your parents, never went to your house for a play date..." But Frank pushes back, "You don't remember anything?" "Why should I?" What Frank reveals next shakes Jaime to the core, and affects his relationship with his parents, his lover and his own memories.
Playwright Amy Herzog brings out questions that will confound present and future philosophers and social archeologist for ages: how do we repress memories — good and bad, mythologized and ripped to the nerve — in the age of Google? How does one escape the whiny-ass/difficult childhood acquaintances when the moving van you were secretly relieved to see pull away pulls right back in to the driveways of the mind, already junked up with the challenges that it takes to get through the day without completely losing grip?
The social media age and childhood sexual abuse ride in-tandem on one main construct: our ability to control what we remember; to repress "the bad" even when we are the bad. Our Facebook pages are carefully cultivated and pristine, until our bully reaches out, and we're reminded of our past humiliation, even as our bully remembers not their bullying. He/she remembers "the good times," same as Jaime's parents and even Polly, who will only remember and share the pristineness of "the good times."
The cast gives an admirable performance in a complicated and difficult story. Like his character, Frank, skinned alive in his weakness as a child but finding his footing to pursue what is just and place his experience in perspective, actor Matt Hawkins stands out for his steadiness while delivering a thankless message and subsequently holding down what can for the first time be defined clearly as a friend in Jaime. Schneider and Valada-Vlars's scenes hurt to sit through; both deliver solid performances as a couple on the verge. However, Schneider stumbles a little in his opening scenes with Hawkins, pushing the dialogue delivery a little too quickly, and his cadence is more Tucker Carlson than Matt Taibbi. Director Kimberly Senior choreographs the one-act, 75-minute production with genteel and subtle footing, perfect for a subject that walks eggshells when too much weight could crack the whole thing.