The Visual & Performing Arts Department at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) presents "The Great God Pan" by Amy Herzog in the WELPE Theatre Wed., April 13 to Sat., April 16 at 7:30 pm.
The play may ask many questions but with no easy answers. We follow a young man named Jamie as he finds out he may have been abused as a child by the father of a friend. “The play is not so much a about abuse but about remembering, actually about trying to remember what happened. Trying to piece together the puzzle in his life at this point in time,” explained Adjunct Instructor Kristen Cerelli who directs RVCC’s production, along with assistant director Nathaniel Pickens (Holland Township) and stage manager Gina Bentivegna (Bound Brook).
It also features six other characters that are somehow related to Jamie and all have issues of their own that they are forced to face. “The issues mirror Jamie’s in terms of coming to terms with things that are going on in their own life,’ Said Cerelli.
Cerelli feels the play is really poetic, beautiful and very deep. “It’s funny. I had picked another play. Then at the last minute we did not get the rights. So I quickly came up with a Plan B.” Feeling the play was too dark for the students left the director in a bit of a quandary. With the characters being a bit older she felt the other play may have been a bit easier. As it turns out Cerelli has fallen in love with the play. “Even though it was not planned it has been a happy accident.”
The cast includes RVCC students and members of the community: Koppany Pusztai (High Bridge) as Jamie, Matt Rooney (Somerville) as Frank, Morgan Tarrant (Califon) as Paige, Mar Puig Oller (Branchburg) as Cathy, Jhaliyl Stewart (Piscataway) as Doug, Samantha Mishinski (Flemington) as Joelle and Bryna Parker (Voorhees) as Polly.
The play will force the audience to face some tough questions but it does not necessarily give us easy answers to the tough questions. “That is part of the world we live in too. We don’t always have the answers to the tough questions,” said Cerelli. “I think it’s relevant
because it asks the question, ‘how do we cope with the bad stuff that happens to us?’. Everybody has bad things that happen. How do we cope with it and how do we put our lives back together when our lives fall apart and can we put our lives back together when we fall apart?”
Cerelli thinks the play is challenging in some ways because it asked the question but it does not answer it. “I keep saying to the students it is a small play about big things. It’s pretty short. It’s probably an hour and 20 minutes long. It’s one full play with no intermission but in that small time period it packs a lot of power.”
Cerelli is very proud of the work the student actors have put in to the play. The material has triggered a lot of emotions in the actors. “Many of them can relate to what the characters are going through, not just Jamie but many of them have grandparents who have memory loss, dementia, and some of them have friends with eating disorders. Some of them have friends or family members who have been abused as children so it was pretty rough-going some days. It would get very emotional and they were triggered by this material. They have been really terrific and brave, “explained Cerelli.
As to the young age of the actors and the older age of the characters, Cerelli faced a challenge. “I think it is always a little bit challenging when you have younger actors trying to play older than they are. What I found as a director directing this play is if the material is really good, and this is really, really good material, the actors will rise to the occasion so they are doing really good work despite the fact that some of them are ten years younger than they are supposed to be and some of them are 20, 30, 40 years younger. We even have one character Polly who is 80 in the play and is being played in such a lovely way by a college student.” Cerelli found this a great learning experience to work with such a young cast. “I just want to restate that I think if the material is good the actors will rise to the occasion and meet it and they are doing that.”
The Great God Pan will have resonance for many, as it touches on the topics of sexual abuse, depression, dementia, eating disorders and family dynamics. “It really resonates a lot because it touches on almost every generation and it touches on issues that seem to affect everyone,” said Cerelli.
All are encouraged to come out and see the play. “First of all I think that the play writing and the story telling is really top notch,” said Cerelli. Amy Herzog, the playwright, is a native of Highland Park and a graduate of the Yale School of Drama. Her play, ‘4000 Miles’, was a 2013 Obie Award winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist in drama. Cerelli feels it is just a really, really good contemporary American play that deserves to be seen. “Harking back to what I said earlier which is there really is something for everyone in it. Everyone will find a character that they relate to or an experience that they relate to or situation that they relate to. I think they will be moved by it. I think that is the power of theatre,” explained Cerelli.
As a recommendation, the play is suitable for audiences 14 years and up. There is nothing explicit in the play that’s portrayed in actions. However, the backstory contains some very mature themes. “I would not take a young child,” suggests Cerelli
Cerelli feels Amy Herzog is a fantastic writer. “Nothing hits you over the head. It’s not heavy handed. It’s very touching and it moves you. I would be surprised if anyone who sees it does not get impacted or moved or touched or you know have feelings about something in the piece. You know have relationships with the play.”
Tickets may be purchased at the RVCC Theatre Box Office (908-725-3420) Mon. - Fri. / 11 am-4pm. or at the door General Admission: $12 / Students, Staff, Faculty & Seniors $8. For additional information, call the VAPA office at 908-218-8876.
Photo Gallery from the RVCC student production of Amy Herzog's The Great God Pan (Photos by Ben Auletta) Click Here
Featured Image: Cast of RVCC's student production of "The Great God Pan by Amy Herzogh. From left to right: Jhaliyl Stewart (Piscataway) as Doug, Matt Rooney (Somerville) as Frank, Assistant Director Nathaniel Pickens (Holland Township), Director & RVCC Adjunct Instructor Kristen Cerelli, Morgan Tarrant (Califon) as Paige, Koppany Pusztai (High Bridge) as Jamie, Mar Puig Oller (Branchburg) as Cathy, Bryna Parker (wheelchair) (Voorhees) as Polly, Samantha Mishinski (Flemington) as Joelle and stage manager Gina Bentivegna (not pictured) (Bound Brook). Photo by Ben Auletta