(Michael Feingold’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 12/26.)
Can a work of art be complete and unfinished at the same time? In her new play, The Great God Pan (Playwrights Horizons), Amy Herzog tells a complete story and yet leaves you to decide for yourself not only what might happen after the last scene, but also what happened before the story began. Ambiguity is her game; within its fascinating parade of alternate possibilities, she has packed a set of big, beautiful, perpetually troubling questions, moral and philosophical. The work is tiny (six characters, 85 minutes), but it runs deep.
Pan, the play's presiding deity, is a woodland god, and Mark Wendland's striking set, echoing the script's noncommittal simplicity, puts an alluring woodland onstage. At once tempting and forbidding, its photo-realist tangle of green boughs compels the actors, in Carolyn Cantor's taut, quietly pitch-perfect production, to stay downstage most of the time. Going deeper into the woods, it suggests, could be dangerous, no matter how enticing they look.
And, as Herzog makes clear, danger lurks everywhere. Another person's mind, another family's home, a parent's or spouse's seemingly rational decision might turn out to be an unexpectedly deep forest, holding perils we never knew existed. Somewhere in the middle of our life's journey, we all, like Dante, find ourselves in a dark wood.