Though the classroom where GIDION’S KNOT takes place looks as cheery, bright, and typical as any, the story that unfolds in it is certainly not. Lost in thought, a teacher (Karen Peakes) is seated at her desk when a harried mother (Alice Gatling) knocks on the door of the class, seeking the room where she’s supposed to have her parent-teacher conference. The entire performance lies in the interaction between the two, and though the waves of emotion GIDION’S KNOT elicits are easily worthy of an ensemble cast, the raw and unfettered dialogue between parent and teacher delivers a closer, more intimate look at the issues presented.
While parent-teacher conferences are typically not joyous affairs, in this case, the child to be discussed has died just three days previously, and the mother is certain that answers are to be found within his school. So begins a contentious dialogue where the teacher, Heather, tries to placate the late boy’s mother, Corryn, while clearly hiding the meat of what she knows. This dance of information extraction could be tedious, but despite the gloomy and tragic nature, there’s so much humor it’s almost difficult to gasp, chuckle, sigh, and laugh at such rapid intervals.
Eventually however, Corryn learns more than she bargained for about her late son Gidion. Both small as well as soul-crushing discoveries are peppered throughout, and never do they feel forced or obvious. In general, GIDION’S KNOT walks a careful line between many potential pitfalls. Themes of parenting, teaching, and bullying, especially in an education climate like Philadelphia’s, do not overshadow the more subtle, yet more powerful commentary on grief, love and imagination.
Seth Rozin’s direction was natural, with Heather’s tense positioning and Corryn’s dominant movements sometimes just as communicative as their words. Only near the end, with the two collapse on the floor together, crying over one of the least sympathetic plot points of the evening, does GIDION’S KNOT seem to grasp for emotion and come up empty handed.
The set and script work well together and it is charming to see all the signs of life from learning children in the classroom turn painful when in reference to Gidion. Though there’s nothing in the script that would by itself make race a discussion, the casting of Alice Gatling to play Corynn, a black woman who dresses with a nod to tribal style, adds another level of squirm when she asks Heather questions like, “What type of mother did you think I would be?” The visual and cultural difference specific to this rendition of GIDION’S KNOT adds more roundness to the drama, without making any cheap statements or taking attention away from universal human issues showcased.
The whole 75 minute play takes place in the classroom, with a clock on the wall ticking down every second. But no one counts as each one brings something different–whether a fresh perspective, an uncomfortable laugh, or perhaps watering eyes. January 17-February 9, interacttheatre.org/.