Left to right, James Leaming, Brett Schneider and Kristina Valada-Viars.Amelia Bell photo

Kimberly Senior, Evanston resident and Joseph Jefferson-nominated director, is coming home. Having directed Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Disgraced,” both in Chicago (American Theatre Company) and New York (Lincoln Center Theater 3), her next project will be “The Great God Pan” at Next Theatre. This will be the fourth play Ms. Senior has directed at Next, and her third collaboration with playwright Amy Herzog (“After the Revolution” at Next, “4,000 Miles” at Northlight Theatre, the latter a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama).
In “The Great God Pan,” journalist Jamie, 32, is told by his friend Frank that he is suing his (Frank’s) father for sexual abuse. Frank believes that Jamie was also abused. Though Jamie says that is not so, his life is thrown into disarray.

Ms. Senior says that “Pan” is one “of a whole season about secrets” that examines “why … we tell them, [h]ow … we hide them, [w]hat happens when we uncover them.” For her, she says, “Pan” is “less about secrets and more about personal myth, which I guess is a secret in its own right: The stories we tell ourselves about who we are may be different than who we actually are.  Next tells very thought-provoking stories. In addition to … the content of the play itself, I believe “The Great God Pan” provokes questions of self that will last long after the final bow of the play.”

Actor Brett Schneider, who will play Jamie in “Pan” says, “Next … stages challenging and provocative work … and they don’t pull any punches. … ‘Pan’ engages with many difficult topics right out of the gate – really in the first few pages of the story – so it is essential that you have an artistic vision … committed to meeting the material head-on.”

Jennifer Avery, artistic director, says she “was absolutely blown away by the production … of Amy’s play, ‘After the Revolution’ at Playwrights Horizons in New York.”  
She says she “knew [she] had to find a way to bring it to Evanston.  Our 2011 production of ‘After the Revolution’ was a huge success and really resonated with our audience. Even though Amy’s work has subsequently been produced at Steppenwolf and Northlight, it felt important to me to bring … it … to Next to continue the discussion … started in ‘Revolution.’ …

“Kimberly really is a perfect interpreter of Amy’s work – I think she understands her plays on a visceral level.

“Amy’s work is very character/actor driven and Kimberly is definitely an actor’s director – she has a way of drawing out beautiful performances from actors time and again and we have been blessed with an amazing group of actors on this production. Our set designer, Courtney O’Neill, has also found an ingenious way to tell this story scenically.  
Mr. Schneider has worked with Ms. Senior before. He says she “has a rare ability as a director to wrestle with material on intellectual and instinctual levels simultaneously, and both approaches are essential to the success of the work. … Kimberly has developed a handful of techniques – really different means of communication –that help an actor take an idea and immediately put it into action. And once you work with her a few times –which I’ve been lucky enough to do –a shorthand develops for these techniques among the actors and designers. … [This] really helps move the process forward.

Ms. Herzog has reportedly said she intended “The Great God Pan” not to be a topical play about sexual abuse but rather an exploration of the nature of “memory and self-discovery.” With such a concern as the play’s motivating event, however, it may be difficult for an audience to see past that and focus on subtext and other thematic elements.

Ms. Senior says, however, that she agrees with Ms. Herzog.  “… [I]t’s not a play about Jamie figuring out what happened to him, but rather opening himself up to the possibility that it might have. …  We are definitely doing our due diligence in learning what we can. But the alleged abuse, the abuser – none of these things are present in the time of the play or in the play itself. We are dealing with the moment-to-moment –what is actually happening between the characters on stage in the present moment.”

Ms. Senior says she is glad to back home. “I love Evanston,” she says.  “I call it Heavenston.  I have been in the Chicago community since 1995 and moved to Evanston in 2012.  This is the smartest, most dynamic, most diverse community I have ever lived in.  I love sharing my work with the amazing parents at my children’s school [Oakton] and my synagogue [Beth Emet].  I love going to the grocery store with the patrons from Next, Northlight and Writers’ – three artistic homes for me.”“The Great God Pan” premieres on April 3.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 847-475-1875 ext. 2 or at www.nexttheatre.org.