Amy Herzog doesn't shy away from difficult subject matter.
In Belleville, which Second Thought Theatre staged to great acclaim last season, a married couple kept ultimately fatal secrets from each other. In the case of The Great God Pan, which Second Thought Theatre is currently staging at Bryant Hall under the direction of Carson McCain, the play's main topic gets jostled out of the spotlight by other more interesting revelations.
The basis of Pan is that Jamie (Alex Organ), a seemingly successful writer who's hiding man-child tendencies, may or may not have been sexually molested at a young age by a friend's father. He was about 4 at the time, and although all signs point to the possibility that it happened, he truly cannot remember.
While he's wrestling with this, his longtime girlfriend Paige (Natalie Young) is going through her own crisis. She's recently discovered she's pregnant but has been unable to really connect with Jamie about whether they should follow it to term. She's also trying to launch her own counseling practice for nutrition and eating disorders, having been a former dancer who retired early due to an injury and then experienced "sickness" herself.
Popping in and out of their lives are Jamie's parents (Bob Hess and Cindy Beal), an affable pair who were too focused on their own problems 27 years ago to have noticed if they put Jamie in harm's way. Jamie's former babysitter (Laura Yancey) also comes into play, supplying memories to Jamie, though her dementia-addled brain can't be entirely trusted.
The trigger for all this is Frank (Drew Wall), who's prosecuting his father for the crimes he committed on him and possibly others. Though pierced and tattooed, with a burgundy mohawk and jean vest studded with safety pins, Frank is perhaps the most pulled-together of anyone, having worked through his demons and emerged happy, gainfully employed, and in love.
By contrast we're supposed to believe Jamie, with leather patches on his scholarly cardigan and the beautiful girlfriend, has it all figured out. The more we learn of him though, the less interesting he becomes. That's not Organ's fault, as he tries to imbue Jamie with as much under-the-skin turmoil as possible (just watch him methodically shred that sugar packet in the first scene).
It's Herzog's fault, since she introduces characters who know for certain what they are struggling with. Paige, especially, makes for a more compelling lead character, as we see her working out her personal insecurities under the professional counselor's veneer. The scenes between Young and Dagny Sanson, playing a recovering bulimic, feel more real and accessible that any of Jamie's.
Herzog relies on the child molestation label to provide the shock and awe, but it's what's going on along the play's edges that is more compelling.
Second Thought Theatre's The Great God Pan runs through May 14.