BWW Review: Stray Cat Theatre Presents GIDION'S KNOT ~ A Thinly Tied Torment
The suicide of a child is an unfathomable tragedy. It begs for explanation when no reason will ever be adequate to allay a parent's grief.
In Johnna Adams' play, GIDION'S KNOT (Stray Cat Theatre's current production, directed by Tracy Liz Miller), Corryn Fell (Shari Watts) is the distraught mother, desperate for answers about her son Gidion's death, forgoing the prescribed cycle of grief to pursue the truth about what unwound him enough to cause the fatal shot.
She is convinced that there is a direct connection between the suicide and the preceding letter from school requesting an appointment to discuss Gidion's suspension. That, beyond whatever bullying (cyber or otherwise) Gidion was enduring, the fault, the precipitating trigger as it were, lies at the door of Gidion's fifth grade teacher, Heather Clark (Alison Campbell).
It is through that door of Ms. Clark's colorful and well-appointed classroom on a Monday afternoon in April that Corryn appears for her appointment, quite unexpected, and commences her inquisition. Hers is a simple question that deserves a simple answer: Why was Gidion suspended?
Simple answers, however, are inexplicably unforthcoming. Heather is unduly evasive and distracted, seemingly more concerned about a pending phone call and stalling for a principal who will never arrive to join the conversation.
Corryn is fierce, determined, and unrelenting ~ working the classroom like Marlowe hunting for clues, seeking the answers to what sins were committed and who bears culpability. When she probes for answers, Heather deflects.
Their exchanges are like the tides, rising to matters of philosophy and literature but receding always to the same disconcerting and unanswered questions.
The teacher, a newbie two years out of the marketing world (a fact that the mother snidely accentuates), wilts before Corryn's erudition and withering sarcasm. It is a spectacularly uneven match of wits, wills, and personalities.
When Heather at last submits and reveals that the cause for the suspension was a story that Gidion had written, Corryn compels her to read it aloud. It's graphic and violent. Heather believes it was unsuitable for the children and that they needed to be protected from its content. Corryn proclaims it a masterful piece of writing and condemns the teacher and the institution for penalizing her son's creativity and effectively exposing the nonconformist to his own mortal vulnerability.
As relevant as the play's overarching theme is to our national discussion about bullying and diversity ~ and its implications for our culture, values, and priorities ~ the eighty minutes of slings and arrows do little to illuminate. At moments, it's the equivalent of a barroom brawl set within an elementary school classroom ~ and, ironically, Corryn is the bully.
There is neither atonement or redemption at the end of Corryn's and Heather's ropes ~ beyond the recriminations, neither solutions nor resolution. Their tension may be palpable but it clings to the same plane. The line that ties the play together is thin and frayed and, at its end, there flutters a clump of loose and disconnected fibers.
The playwright's directions allow for nonverbal responses that can be played in many ways ~ "as a pause, a beat, a movement, a silence, a smile, a sudden thought, or it can be used to give the scene some air, some room, some tension, etc." It's in these allowable but underused spaces that the implausible conversation of GIDION'S KNOT and the shape of the two characters could have been amplified and gained some much-needed nuance and dimension.
GIDION'S KNOT runs through March 24th at the Tempe Center for the Arts.
Photo credit to John Groseclose