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Gidion's Knot

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Erin Cronican and Susan Izatt
Photo by Natasha Straley

Young adolescents, 11, 12, 13 years old, are terribly vulnerable to the sudden physical, emotional, and social upheaval that marks their lives at this stage of development, a time when self-esteem plummets and "fitting in" is of paramount importance. Most manage to get through puberty a little bruised but relatively unscathed, but some are not so lucky. In Johnna Adams's intense drama Gidion's Knot, being given a compelling production by The Seeing Place at the Clarion Theatre, two wary women —one the mother of a fifth grade boy, the other, his teacher, meet up after the boy has committed suicide.

The entire play takes place in real time during the course of the meeting between the two. Gidion's mother, Corryn (Erin Cronican), has shown up at school for a previously scheduled appointment with her son's teacher, Heather (Susan Izatt). Ostensibly, she has come to find out why her son had been suspended from school just prior to his death —a fight with another student, perhaps? But, of course, what she really is looking for is answers to the unanswerable, and to be able to uncover where it is she can lay blame and responsibility in order to assuage her own pain, anger, and sense of guilt.

For her part, and quite understandably, Heather is taken aback. She hardly expected Gidion's mother to keep the appointment, and while she herself is not a young woman, she is a relatively new teacher and is unsure of how to handle the situation. But she tries as best she can to provide some context to Gidion's life at school, including his relationships with the other students.

Throughout the evening, the two actresses, under Brandon Walker's direction, give nuanced and emotionally honest performances of complicated characters. Ms. Cronican offers up a Corryn who is a tough cookie, a single mom and a literature professor who tries to approach everything from a rational and analytic perspective as she sorts through Gidion's desk sifting for clues and demanding answers. She has little patience with canned responses and platitudes; when Heather tells her the students at the school are writing her sympathy cards, she tells the teacher to "collect them, then take them home and burn them."

The most disturbing part of the play comes when, at Corryn's insistence, Heather reads aloud a piece of writing that Gidion had composed, the thing that led to his suspension. It is here that we come to understand why the company has chosen to pair in rotating rep Gidion's Knot with Martin McDonagh's dark comedy, The Pillowman, for the story that Gidion has written is as horrifically violent as anything that appears in McDonagh's play —so much so that it does make us wonder why it is that Gidion was merely suspended and why the police and the psychiatric community were not brought into the picture.

Regardless, it takes a lot of guts for Heather to read this aloud, and gradually Ms. Izatt shows us that beneath Heather's insecure demeanor, there beats the heart of a teacher anyone would be proud of, who authentically cares about her students, who listens to them and learns from them. In some ways, she knows more about Gidion than his mother does. And even though Corryn reacts defensively to Gidion's writing, we sense a shift in her perception.

In the end, there is no catharsis, no moment of weepy bonding —a brief one-sided hug tells us all we need to know about that —but Corryn and Heather do understand one another a little better, even if neither of them will ever be able to untie the knot that was Gidion.

Gidion's Knot
Through December 20
The Seeing Place @ the Clarion Theater, 309 East 26th Street at 2nd Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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