The Great God Pan's Uncertainty Principle

It's a world of ambiguity in Amy Herzog's fine new play

Pan, half goat and half god, embodies both playful, polymorphous sexuality and violent destruction. Herzog's title comes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "A Musical Instrument," the first stanza of which, recited by Polly, has lodged in Jamie's meager trove of recovered memories. Mrs. Browning's poem, properly Victorian, omits explicit sexual imagery; it shows Pan committing violence on the plants at a river's edge—in order to create a reed pipe, thus inventing instrumental music. Elizabeth Barrett, one notes, also had her troubles with a tyrannical father, whose interest in her may have been more than merely paternal. Like every exactingly chosen detail in Herzog's play, the poem resonates with her script in both form and substance. Saluting the invention of music, Mrs. Browning made verbal music with a hidden sexual secret at its core. Herzog, employing the same source more explicitly and analytically, makes stage poetry.

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