Gidion’s Knot is a story of irredeemable grief. It is a story about the fragility of childhood, and whether it is the duty of parents to protect their children or to let them flower. It is a tale about artistic freedom, and whether it can have limits, and if so, what those limits are. In short, Johnna Adams’ genius play is about what it is to be a human being in a dangerous and sinister world.
But we need something quotidian to anchor ourselves to the play, so I should say that it is a play about bureaucracy. It begins with a mother, Corryn Fell, (Caroline Stefanie Clay) who insists on having a scheduled parent-teacher conference with her eleven-year-old son’s instructor, Ms. Clark (Katy Carkuff). “But I had an appointment,” Fell says in response to all arguments that it would be unwise to confer on this day. And the play closes with the teacher signing a document which says that the conference took place, as she must do under the Law of the School.
What makes Ms. Clark think that a parent-teacher conference would be unwise? Let me put it to you plainly, since you will learn it within the play’s first ten minutes: the child is dead, shot by his own hand after being suspended from school.
This is only the first of a dozen shocking developments in this story. I urge you to come to the play full of expectations, in order to have the pleasure of seeing your expectations exploded. Near the beginning of the play, Ms. Clark dissolves into unexplained tears; you will think you know why, and you will be wrong.
At the center of the play is a shocking story which the child wrote. Is it art, or is it assault? I first saw the play two years ago, and I still don’t know. Maybe it’s both.
Adams catches the fifth-grade patios with astonishing verisimilitude. A note from a classmate stashed away in Gidion’s desk shows it all: the struggle to master language sufficient to capture an emotional life beginning to veer out of control. Gidion wanted to become a writer, and his story reveals a monstrous talent, one which might belong to a young Poe or Byron or – and this is Ms. Clark’s fear – a Seung-Hui Cho,who wrote murderous fantasies and then killed thirty-two people at Virginia Tech.
Under Cristina Alicea’s direction, the play’s focus is on Corryn’s rage, and Clay is spot-on. Clay’s Corryn is a woman who is absolutely sure of herself, until she is not; she is full of fire-hose fury, kept in restraint until she reaches the point of attack. It is a memorably incendiary performance, full of sudden stops and mood swings; Corryn, who has lost her husband and now her son, is at every moment, in danger of losing her soul, and when she turns and fires a volley of pain, you may cringe for fear it is directed at you.
Co-produced by Forum Theatre and NextStop Theatre
Forum Theatre: closed August 3, 2014
at Black Box Theatre, Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, Md.
Tickets: PWYW or $20 advance
Runs Aug 28 – Sept 14, 2014
Industrial Strength Theatre
269 Sunset Business Park
Herndon, VA 20170
1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission
In the production I saw at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia two years ago, the two antagonists were on a more equal footing than they are here, but in the DC area – where rigid school bureaucracies, with their absurd zero-tolerance rules, predominate, it makes sense to tell this story from Corryn’s point of view.
Toward the end of the play there is a moment so shocking, so scabrously funny that it will seem like blasphemy. The characters laugh, and cry, and laugh again, and you might too.
You’ve heard of must-see TV? Well, this is must-see theater. I recommend you see Gidion’s Knot. You might be the better for it.
Gidion’s Knot by Johnna Adams, directed by Cristina Alicea . Featuring Katy Carkuff and Caroline Steganie Clay . Scenic design by Scott Hengen . Lighting design by Paul Frydrychowski and Annmarie Castringo . Costume design by Brittany Graham . Sound design by Michael Dove . Properties design by Deb Crerie. Stage management: Keta Newborn, assisted by Brittany Truske . Technical director: Jon Harvey . Produced by Forum Theatre and NextStop Theatre . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
The critics respond to Gidion’s Knot
Tim Treanor . DCTheatreScene … a story of irredeemable grief.
Eric Denver . DCMetroTheaterArts (at NextStop) two top-notch unforgettable emotional performances
Tanya Pei . Washingtonian If Gidion’s Knot were an installment of a TV series, it could be considered a “bottle episode.”
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post … sharp as a knife, but undone by threadbare plot details.
John Soltenberg . DCMetroTheaterArts At the core of this inexorable and engrossing drama by Johnna Adams is a disturbing enigma…
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld …not one of your standard, paint-by-the-numbers, afterschool special type of plays about bullying in the schools.
Elliot Lanes . MDTheatreGuide Any play that deals with a hot topic like bullying in school is likely to get a lot of attention from theatre companies across the country. [/ezcol_3quarter_end]