Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Budding young playwright Johnna Adams has layered this tense one-act, one-scene confrontation between a mother and a teacher with passion and power, shame and guilt, tears and anger, until the classroom seems so hot it could burst into flames. Fine directing by Wendy Chapin and her assistant Adam Harvey, a carefully contrived but functional classroom set and flawless performances by Lisa Foster and Sabina Dunn heighten the drama almost to the breaking point.
What creates the confrontation is the suicide of the boy Gidion, and what activates the play are the knotted mysteries over why he killed himself and who bears responsibility. During their confrontation, we learn a great deal about this single mother and his novice teacher, far more than we learn about the dead boy. Although there is no end of hints, we never really get any answers to the questions we most want answered. I am confident this lack of resolution is intentional, but it still leaves a feeling of incompleteness, a sense that we would have liked more.
The teacher Heather (played by Foster, who is also the producer) and the mother Corryn (Dunn) are about as different as two people could be. The mother is tough, extroverted and aggressive. From the time she enters the classroom until the moment she leaves, she attacks the teacher unceasingly. Even her lapses into sympathy are disguised assaults on the teacher's competence, integrity and emotional stability. The teacher, on the other hand, is at once dignified and vulnerable, a former marketing specialist who switched to teaching for idealistic reasons.
The mother and the teacher are brought together by the boy's suicide, which they talk around and around without ever directly confronting. We learn snippets about the boy's life, but it is seldom clear which are facts and which are merely unreliable rumors. We hear two essays he wrote for class assignments, both highly disturbing but incredibly mature in their mastery of the English language and narrative structure. The mother focuses only on the brilliant technique while the teacher sees only the psychotic content. In this as in everything else, there is no meeting of the minds.
At the end the questions remain, haunting and daunting, questions that we in the audience are tempted to apply to our uncertain lives. The greatest question of all is this: Why do the kids we teach, the kids we raise, the kids we think we know turn out to be Gordian knots?
For those who live in Santa Fe, I would say that this is the kind of edgy, thought-provoking theater you seldom get to see in the City Different. For those outside of Santa Fe, I would add that it's worth the journey.
Gidion's Knot continues this week, Thursday November 13 and Saturday November 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday November 16 at 4 p.m. at Warehouse 21 in the Santa Fe Railyards, 1614 Paseo de Peralta. Tickets are $15 and available at the door. Information is available at 505-989-4423.