“Yet half a beast is the great god Pan / To laugh as he sits by the river / Making a poet out of man.” This line comes from the poem “A Musical Instrument” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the work that served as the inspiration behind the theater department’s production of “The Great God Pan” at the Adler Theater in the Berrie Center.
While a viewer can certainly watch the play, which finishes its run this weekend, without any prior familiarity of the poem, it does shed light on what could be described as the main antagonist of the play, memory itself. “The Great God Pan” follows the life of Jamie, played by Frank Rincon, as he comes to the revelation that he may have been abused by his childhood friend’s father, although he can’t recall the event in his own mind. This puzzling dilemma begins to tear apart Jamie’s life, as well as his relationship with his mother, father and girlfriend, Paige (Amber Walker), who has recently gotten pregnant.
The play brilliantly explores the idea of memory, more specifically its inability to fully recollect events and its deterioration over time. Scattered throughout the play are instances where the inability of the characters to perfectly recall events causes them anxiety and depression. A great example of this is when Jamie’s father Doug (Alex Luckenbaugh) informs him of a week-long stay Jamie once had at his friend Frank’s (Sean Dabney) house, during a particularly turbulent time in his parent’s marriage.
This not only fuels Jamie’s own anxiety about the possibility of having been sexually abused but also his parents’ own fear of leaving him in the hands of a child molester due to their marital problems and their unwillingness to reveal their issues to friends and family. This is demonstrated quite clearly in a scene near the end of the play where Jamie’s mom Joelle (Kelly Blake), tearfully calls him, expressing the fear that she possibly left her boy in the hands of a pedophile.
This, in combination with Paige’s decision to abort her pregnancy due to uncertainty about Jaime’s commitment to their relationship, ends the play on an uncertain note, with no clear resolution for the characters’ struggles. However, this does serve to benefit the themes of the play, transferring the anxiety and uncertainty that the characters feel to the audience.
It would seem that the identity of the Great God Pan would be memory itself, as the recollection of this possible event breaks the status quo and turns apathy into a storm of emotions, exemplified when Jamie recites “A Musical Instrument.”