BWW Reviews: Stages Repertory Theatre's GIDION'S KNOT is Exquisitely Taut and Intense
When it comes to tense and taut one-act dramas that play out in real time, one often thinks of playwright David Mamet. With an extensive resume of work I'm not familiar with, Johnna Adams' work in GIDION'S KNOT is just as intense and intriguing as any of the David Mamet plays I've experienced. Furthermore, GIDION'S KNOT is a timely drama filled to overflowing with relevant social commentary that makes the 75 minutes production all the more gripping.
GIDION'S KNOT takes place in early April on a Monday. As the lights fade up, the clock reads 2:45 p.m. Heather Clark, a fifth grade teacher, sits as her desk grading papers and compulsively checking her cell phone. A harried woman, Corryn Fell, enters the room. She has arrived on campus for a parent-teacher conference. Heather directs her to the office, and within minutes Corryn Fell returns to Heather's classroom. Corryn is there to discuss her son's expulsion from school; however, over the weekend her son, Gidion, committed suicide. Heather does her best to stall the conversation, but Corryn won't allow that to occur. Before long, the two examine the various failures that lead to Gidion's unfortunate suicide.
Sally Edmundson's direction of the piece couldn't be more perfect. As a schoolteacher myself, I appreciated how reluctant and hesitant she has the character of Heather Clark to discuss the issues, especially since they concern other students, with Corryn Fell. There is no denying that, in this situation, a teacher would have received a directive to not engage in conversation with this parent about the circumstances leading up to her son's expulsion as they may be directly involved in his decision to commit suicide. Yet, as the troubled mother of the student continues to press on her, we see intrinsic empathy overpower fear as the young teacher tries to aide the grieving parent.
Furthermore, Sally Edmundson's handling of the parent is wholly impressive. Johnna Adams gives Corryn Fell extremely heavy and pointed dialogue throughout the show. In fact, the biting social commentary written for the character to speak could read as forced or unnatural in the hands of a different creative team; yet, here, Sally Edmundson guarantees that everything her Corryn Fell utters seems tangibly realistic and believable. This is most apparent when Corryn Fell ferociously condemns the American political system for revoking civil liberties anywhere people can point to the body of a dead child. In this electrifying moment, Corryn Fell asks a series of powerful questions and verbalizes her answers.
Taking the stage for 75 minutes, Bridget Beirne as Heather Clark and Shelley Calene-Black as Corryn Fell enthrall the audience for the entirety of the performance. From the time the lights fade up on Heather, Bridget Beirne capably creates a character that is noticeably stressed and agitated. These feelings are not assuaged at all in the production. Instead, Shelley Calene-Black's Corryn Fell is quick to attack Heather and berate her for her son's suicide, which she openly blames Heather for. As the women share information about Gidion, painting a full portrait of the dead adolescent, the audience sees how both public school and his home life failed him. His motives for suicide are never fully spoken, but they are made gut-wrenchingly clear in the words that the women choose not to say. As the women argue, discuss, share, and reveal, each crafts a strong and sensitive woman looking for resolution in this tough scenario. Both struggle to understand the other's viewpoints and a common ground is found, even if they never fully agree. Most importantly, as a duo they make this heated conversation fascinating and affective from beginning to end.
Scenic Design by Liz Freese recreates the colorful and ebullient environment of an elementary classroom. With all the perfectly placed and matched decorations on the set, I remarked to my theatre going companion that this had to be the classroom of a first or second year teacher. Near the top of the show, Heather reveals to Corryn that she is in her second year of teaching. Intentionally or not, subtle choices made in the way the set is decorated ensured that Liz Freese's design keenly captured telltale signs of teachers newer to the profession. There is one minor drawback though, and that is the fact that the classroom is not ADA friendly, which would not fly in any modern day classroom.
Lighting Design by John Smetak bathes the room in realistic lighting. His use of evening sunlight streaming in from windows is a nice touch as well. Sound Design by Joel Burkholder capably captures the ambient noises of schools. Costume Design by LA Clevenson dresses the actresses in outfits that fit the characters and their professions flawlessly. Properties Design by Jodi Bobrovsky is appropriate for the show and modern setting; for example, her use of a The Dark Knight Rises themed folder for Gidion's work is a smart and appropriate choice.
Despite the heavy material covered in GIDION'S KNOT, this play will send you out into the world fully charged and full of things to contemplate. The performances offered by the actresses are simply exquisite and every element of the production works together to create a magnificent and powerful evening of theatre. This is must see theatre that Houston audiences will be buzzing about for some time to come.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.
Stages Repertory Theatre's Regional Premiere production of GIDION'S KNOT runs in Stages' Yeager Theater, 3201 Allen Parkway, Suite 101, Houston, 77019 now through April 6, 2014. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://stagestheatre.com or call (713) 527-0123.
Photos by Bruce Bennett. Courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre.
Bridget Beirne as Heather Clark.